Politics & Government

Shooting prompts prayer, not a gun debate, from SC members of Congress

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan says he didn’t notice anything unusual about the man who asked him whether Democrats or Republicans were practicing on the baseball diamond in Alexandria, Va., Wednesday morning.

“I said it was the Republican team, and he said ‘ ‘K, thanks,’ ” Duncan recalls telling the man as the Laurens Republican left his GOP colleagues’ practice for a charity baseball game. “There was nothing conspicuous about him ... He wasn’t carrying anything.”

Duncan soon learned a shooting had taken place after he left, injuring five people, including fellow GOP Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. Later, he gave police a statement and saw a photo of the alleged shooter, James Hodgkinson.

“I saw the picture, and I knew it was him,” Duncan said. “Everything fit the description I gave to the Alexandria police.”

“He was coming up the first base gate, which is the only way out of there,” Duncan said of the man. “He had them pigeonholed. It could have been a worse act of violence.”

No calls for gun action from SC

The shooting of Scalise, the GOP’s House majority whip, prompted some calls for legislative action on guns, including from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who said there are too many guns on the street. Based on witness accounts, the shooter was firing a semi-automatic rifle, but the exact make could not be immediately confirmed.

And in the shooting’s aftermath, a planned hearing on hunting and fishing legislation was canceled that would have included Duncan’s Hearing Protection Act – a bill to loosen restrictions on gun silencers.

Duncan said he still expects that legislation to move forward, even if there’s more pressure from gun-control advocates who “will jump on any kind of narrative,” he said, crediting Scalise’s security detail for preventing greater bloodshed because they were armed.

But the Palmetto State’s members of Congress, including the state’s lone Democrat, offered their prayers to the victims instead of jumping into a gun-control debate.

“We’ve got plenty of gun laws,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, told reporters. “I own a gun. I don’t go around shooting people with it.”

“Bottom line: people get shot, run over by cars, stabbed,” Graham said, referring to last year’s terror attack in Nice, France, and the recent attack in London. “It’s just a crazy world. If we have that debate, it would end like it always ends. “We’re not going to tell law-abiding people they can’t own a gun because of some nut job.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, said the shooting was about hate, not a debate over gun rights.

“They say he was distraught about Donald Trump being elected,” Clyburn said. “Well, I’m distraught about Donald Trump being elected, but I’m not going to go out and shoot anybody.”

Quick to praise police

Duncan was the only member of South Carolina’s delegation at the scene of the shooting Wednesday. Scalise was playing second base next to him at short stop. Duncan said he gave Scalise a fist bump as he left the field.

But others were quick to pass along their prayers for victims and praise for Capitol Police.

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, recalled how Capitol officer Jacob “J.J.” Chestnut of Myrtle Beach was killed along with another officer in 1998 while on detail protecting then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay.

“They (Capitol Police) likely prevented more injuries, and that commitment is laudable in the extreme,” Sanford said of Wednesday’s incident.

South Carolinians react

“Please join us in prayer for those injured this morning in Virginia. This was a senseless act that challenges the values of America. Violence is never the answer.”

- UN Amb. and former SC Gov. Nikki Haley

“The shooting this morning was reprehensible, and I am grateful for the bravery of (Capitol Police) Officer (Krystal) Griner and Officer (David) Bailey. They each embodied the courage and selflessness that Capitol Police officers display each and every day.”

- U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale

“My prayers are with Congressman Steve Scalise and others who were injured this morning at the congressional baseball game practice ... The U.S. Capitol Police deserve praise for their courage this morning. They likely prevented more injuries, and that commitment is laudable in the extreme.”

- U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston

“I hope tomorrow’s game will go on. In many ways, baseball represents the resiliency, fighting spirit, and competitiveness of America. I am confident that the foundation of our democracy is stronger than the will of a disturbed and deranged individual.”

- Ralph Norman, GOP candidate for 5th District congressional seat

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Congressman Scalise, the officers with the Capitol Police and the young Congressional staffers victimized in today’s shooting in Alexandria. Violence like this is damaging to our democracy and will not be tolerated.”

- Archie Parnell, Democratic candidate for 5th District congressional seat

“Prayers for members of Congress, their families and staff. We thank God for well trained law enforcement officers.”

- Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin on Twitter

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