Sunday, August 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: When political rancor breeds violence

The shooter who opened fire on a congressional baseball team practice committed an insane and despicable act. He is dead, but still living and breathing is a malignant political environment that has come to be regarded as normal, one in which James Hodgkinson came to the crazed conclusion that hunting down members of Congress was a legitimate political solution.

The violence in Alexandria, Va., wounded five and claimed yet another safe space in America — a neighborhood baseball field — where members of Congress, their staffs and their children were preyed upon at dawn even under the watch of armed guards. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House majority whip, was struck, along with four others. Hodgkinson, 66, who was killed in the firefight with Capitol Police, was revealed to be a disgruntled liberal activist. Minutes before the shooting, he apparently approached Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis and asked who was on the field — Democrats or Republicans.

Shocked? Consider: This is the same deeply partisan and flatly soulless atmosphere in which a comedian posted a photo of the president's bloody, severed head as a joke, expecting laughs. In which rancorous, personal tweets fly with impunity across our screens, entirely normalized. It all needs to stop. Political differences have escalated to indecency — and now violence — which demands an immediate commitment to more civilized discourse. We are all Americans, first and foremost.

Start with the issue of guns. Federal officials are running a trace on a rifle and a handgun that the shooter used.

"He was hunting us at that point," said Rep. Mike Bishop, a Michigan Republican who was near the infield. "He had a rifle that was clearly meant for the job of taking people out, multiple casualties, and he had several rounds and magazines that he kept unloading and reloading."

Bishop added that the assailant seemed to be "double-tapping" the trigger, sending off a spray of bullets. "There was so much gunfire, you couldn't get up and run. Pop, pop, pop, pop — it's a sound I'll never forget." A congressman who saw the weapon on the ground afterward described it as an AR-15-type assault weapon.

Law-abiding citizens have no need to carry assault rifles, and magazines that hold 30 rounds or more serve only to claim more lives. They should be outlawed. Of course, gun legislation is one of the most intractable issues in Washington and no amount of mass shootings — there have been more than 150 this year alone — seems to break the stalemate. The carnage would have been far worse had Scalise not been guarded by Capitol Police officers. Outgunned, they returned fire. Before the suspect was shot down, two of the officers were wounded.

The response Wednesday from the nation's leaders, starting with President Donald Trump, served to reassure a rattled capital and offered some legitimate hope for a new start. Trump proclaimed, "We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good," perhaps signifying a new willingness to work with his political adversaries. House Speaker Paul Ryan could have been addressing the entire nation when he told his House colleagues that "for all the noise and all the fury, we are one family." He added sage advice: "Let's just slow down and reflect, to think about how we are all being tested right now."

Only by dialing down the fierceness and frequency of political attacks can any problems begin to be solved. Only by listening to all viewpoints on issues like gun safety will the country become safer. Scalise, who was in critical condition, and the other shooting victims were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game, a cherished custom that raises money for charity and one of the few remaining events that brings together Democrats and Republicans. The violence that nearly derailed that tradition should spark a new clamor for unity and an outright rejection of the rancor that gave rise to it.

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