- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The rifle shots came from the fence over the third base line, shattering the June morning, wounding one congressman and several staffers, and terrifying the two dozen lawmakers and staffers who were also on the field.

Then came gunshots from the other side of the field.

Three U.S. Capitol Police officers, who were at the field as part of their duty to protect a senior Republican lawmaker, were returning fire. They turned the murderous assault by a left-wing fanatic into a raging gunbattle that kept the man off balance and outside the ballfield fence, giving lawmakers and staffers a chance to run for their lives.

The agents then kept the gunman from getting a bead into the concrete dugout where more than a dozen lawmakers and staffers were huddled.

“If he’d gotten in the fence, there would have been a bloodbath,” said Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican and manager of the team, which was practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game on Thursday.

In a day full of very human moments and emotions, the agents who were part of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s security detail were hailed as absolute heroes, taking on a man with a rifle while armed only with handguns and averting what those on the field said would have been a certain massacre.

“The thin blue line held today,” said Rep. Roger Williams, a coach on the team who injured his ankle diving to the floor of the dugout to get out of the line of fire.

It was, lawmakers said, a classic example of good people with guns stopping a bad man with a gun.

“We were sitting ducks. We had nothing to fight back with but bats, if it came to that,” Mr. Williams told reporters. He said there could have been as many as 25 deaths had the armed officers not been present.

The officers were identified as Special Agents David Bailey, Crystal Griner and Henry Cabrera. Agent Griner was shot in the ankle, and Agent Bailey was treated for what authorities called a minor injury.

The gunman shot Mr. Scalise and two others: a staffer for Mr. Williams, who was hit in the leg, and a lobbyist and former Republican staffer who volunteers with the baseball team and who was shot multiple times, including in the chest.

Lawmakers described the helplessness of their situation and the overpowering sense of relief when they realized the Capitol Police were in the fight.

“I am on the ground, and the only thing I can think of is, ‘He is going to kill every one of us because we can’t move, and all he is going to do is hit one [of us] after the other,’” said Rep. Mike Bishop of Michigan.

“I am thinking in my head, ‘Should I turn my body and not get my head shot?’ That is what is going through my head, and then all of a sudden these guys came into the entranceway and began to fire, and we all got a chance, a reprieve, to get up and go,” Mr. Bishop said.

Several of the lawmakers said they encountered the gunman just before he opened fire, as they were leaving the stadium.

“He asked me if this team was a Republican or Democrat team practicing,” Rep. Jeff Duncan told reporters. “I responded that it was the Republican team practicing and he proceeded to shoot Republicans. Take that for what it is.”

That bolstered the conclusion that the man, who had a history of anti-Republican rantings online and who was apparently a volunteer for Sen. Bernard Sanders’ left-wing presidential campaign last year, had intended to harm Republicans.

“I know what he asked me, I know how I answered, I know what happened and I am going to take it that he was targeting Republicans this morning by shooting at the Republican baseball team,” Mr. Duncan said.

When the shooting started, Rep. Trent Kelly of Mississippi, playing on the third base side of the field, was facing the gunman and was the first target, lawmakers said.

The Iraq War veteran zigzagged and somehow escaped injury, leaving Mr. Scalise the next target near second base, along with the aide and the lobbyist.

Lawmakers said they were fortunate that they usually congregated on the first base line, and the gate on the third base side was locked. That forced the gunman, whom the FBI identified as James T. Hodgkinson, to walk around the perimeter, where the police were able to engage him.

“That was locked,” said Rep. Michael K. Conaway, Texas Republican. “Had our Capitol Hill guys not been there, Scalise not been there, he would have had free rein and it would have been a much uglier circumstance. Obviously, having Scalise’s two guys there saved the day.”

One group, Americans for Limited Government, said the shooting should spur Congress to make it easier to carry firearms. They demanded a nationwide concealed carry law that would let someone permitted to carry in one state also carry elsewhere in the U.S.

Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, said average Americans should have the same chance that members of Congress had because of Mr. Scalise’s police protection.

“While it is particularly heinous that this was an attack on the very institution of government, it would be no less tragic if it had been against everyday citizens,” he said. “Those citizens need to have the choice guaranteed to them by the Constitution to have the means to protect themselves. Congress needs to act now to pass national concealed carry legislation.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, speaking at a press conference hours after the attack, said it wasn’t the time to debate gun control — then launched into a call for further restrictions.

“There are too many guns on the street,” he said.

Liberal activist groups likewise called for more civility in politics, then demanded action on their gun control priorities.

But Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican who was at the field, said the Second Amendment isn’t the problem — and may even be the solution.

“Put it this way: If we had had more weapons there, we could have subdued that shooter more quickly,” he said. “Thank God that the Capitol Police were there and were armed, because otherwise we’d have had a situation where there’d been a lot more damage.”

David Sherfinski contributed to this report.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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