The divisive politics of gun control reared its head Wednesday, unable to be suppressed by the wave of unity that swept Washington in the aftermath of the targeted shooting of Republican lawmakers.
Both liberals and conservatives raised the issue within hours of a gunman opening fire on Republican congressmen as they practiced for an annual charity baseball game at a public park in Alexandria, Va., near the capital. The Left used the shooting to push for more firearms restrictions; the Right to argue for more expansive carrying rights.
“We need to do more to protect all of our citizens. I have long advocated — this is not what today is about — but there are too many guns on the street. We lose  Americans a day to gun violence. I have long talked about this,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat with 2020 ambitions.
McAullife spoke during a news conference with law enforcement officials just three hours after the shooting, in which five individuals, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.; two officers with the United States Capitol Police; a lobbyist; and a House GOP aide, suffered gunshot wounds.
But the governor wasn’t alone.
Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank friendly with Hillary Clinton, and Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., both issued statements that alluded to firearms proliferation as a responsible factor, even as they wished the victims well and praising first responders.
The Right, too, tried to make its points. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., told reporters that members of Congress should be permitted to carry guns in D.C., calling for “concealed carry reciprocity” — along with an uptick in security.
“First of all, if this had happened in Georgia, he wouldn’t have gotten too far,” Loudermilk said. “I had a staff member who was in his car, maybe 20 yards behind the shooter … who back in Georgia carries a nine millimeter in his car. I carry a weapon. He had a clear shot at him. But here, we’re not allowed to carry any weapons here… Most of us are here in D.C., so how are you supposed to have it here?”
The gunman has been identified as James T. Hodgkinson, who died at the hospital after being taken into custody.
Hodgkinson was shot by Capitol Police. They were there as a part of Scalise’s protective detail, and returned fire after he opened fire. He worked as a campaign volunteer for Sanders in 2016 and expressed hatred for President Trump and the Republicans on social media.
The shooting rocked official Washington and put an immediate damper on the appetite for normal politics, which has been at an uninterrupted a fever pitch for several months.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence canceled their events, and limited their remarks to condolences and calls for unity among political adversaries.
Congressional leaders did the same, with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., delivering emotional remarks from the House floor, to several standing ovations each.
As an act of defiance, Democrats and Republicans agreed that the charity baseball game should go on as scheduled, on Thursday evening at Nationals Park. The game, among insider Washington’s favorite events, features Democrats versus Republicans in a competitive but friendly baseball game.
But members remain shaken, particularly Republicans, given the motivations of the assailant.
Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., who played for the GOP in the baseball game for years until this year, said that the issue of safety has come up in recent months as members consider holding town halls and events back in their districts.
Barletta said they don’t just worry about themselves, but also their constituents and staff.
“I’ve had more threats this year than any other time,” Barletta said.
The congressman said that recently reported a threat to Capitol Police after his vote on the American Health Care Act. In a message, a caller said that they weren’t going to live long due to the vote and that “now it was my turn to die as well.”
Barletta complained that the political rhetoric is overheated, worse than anything he’s seen in the past. He said it has to stop. It might, for a while.
Yet even the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, among the more unifying events in Washington in the last many decades, had limited shelf life in terms of reducing the vitriol.
“It’s just been more of that type of rhetoric than anytime in the past, and it’s really got to stop. I think it’s just gone too far now,” Barletta said.