When a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball practice Wednesday, everyone in Washington looked for a positive message. There had to be a point to something so awful. The consensus was for Coming Together.
“For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family,” Speaker Paul Ryan told the House.
“You’re going to hear me say something you never heard me say before,” rejoined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “I identify myself with the remarks of the speaker.”
“We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” said Donald Trump.
This was regarded as one of Trump’s better presidential moments. He didn’t insult anyone, the way he did after the London terrorist attack. He didn’t suggest that in the future, all baseball players should be armed. And let’s hope it lasts. Since the gunman, James Hodgkinson, was known back home in Illinois as a vehement Trump critic, the president could definitely regress back into making the tragedy all about Donald.
But truthfully, American politics has been mean and verbally violent for a lot longer than Donald Trump’s been in the White House. Pelosi – who’s often depicted as the archvillain in Republican campaign ads – has been getting death threats for years. Back in 2010 a San Francisco man admitted to making more than 30 phone calls to Pelosi and her family, threatening to kill her or blow up her house if she voted for health care reform.
Ironically, the practice Hodgkinson’s bullets interrupted was for a ballgame that’s a lonely throwback to the good old days of political congeniality, when people from both parties would debate during the day and then go off to drink together after work. The drinking thing is pretty much over. But the representatives and senators do still get together every year to yell good-natured insults at each other and play ball, Democrats against Republicans.
Even better, there’s a bipartisan women’s softball team that has its own game every year: lawmakers versus reporters from the D.C. press corps.
“It’s really one of the best things we do,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the veteran players.
Gillibrand has a keen memory of the day all the team’s players signed a ball for her good friend Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 while holding a constituent meet-and-greet at a shopping center.
“I’m not shocked or surprised this happened. I lived through this once before,” Gillibrand said. “We’re in a violent time. We’ve seen Sandy Hook, we’ve seen such horrible gun violence in our communities for a very long time.”
The women’s game is next week. “We’ll play,” the senator said. “We’re meant to carry on our lives.”
Creating more comity in Washington is a good goal. (So, by the way, is getting more women in Congress.) But if we’re looking to the congressional shooting for lessons, we also have to talk about guns.
The baseball story was awful – Rep. Steve Scalise and three other people were hit by gunfire. But every week in America we hear stories that are bloodier. There were 27 incidents of multiple fatal shootings in the week before Hodgkinson took out a rifle and handgun and started firing. A couple of hours after, an aggrieved UPS employee in San Francisco shot and killed three people and wounded two others before turning the gun on himself.
We’ll be spending the next few days trying to work through Hodgkinson’s history. How did this happen? Were there any warning signs separating him from the hordes of other people who post angry diatribes about politicians? What kind of guns did he use? Where did he buy them?
“I hope this doesn’t devolve into the usual situation where you expect that any one tragedy is going to change the conversation,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He’s been through too much of that already, and it’s true – if 20 little children can be shot in their Connecticut school without triggering national gun law reform, it’s not likely that the wounding of several adults in Virginia will do the trick.
But we’ll keep trying. To start, we need to come together on a consensus that there’s something wrong with a country in which an average of 93 people are killed with guns every day, in which gun homicides are so common that news reports frequently don’t bother to mention how the murderer obtained his weapon, and in which even multiple shootings often don’t make the national news unless there’s some suggestion the crime might be related to terrorism.
Write a letter. Call your representative. Hold a meeting. You can demand laws to keep criminals from buying guns, or laws to keep greedy gun sellers from ignoring background checks, or laws to ban rifles that allow one person to take down several dozen victims without reloading. Even if your hopes aren’t high, keep fighting. This is a righteous cause.