Shots Fired

The Gunman, the Congressman, and the Law

Just after James Hodgkinson was told not to shoot his assault rifle in Illinois, he took off for Washington.

Everybody should have a security detail such as the Capitol Police officers who sprang into action when a maniac with an assault rifle opened fire at the congressional baseball practice on Wednesday morning.

“Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault,” President Trump rightly said.

But even with such courageous protectors, Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot in the hip. He crawled across the field, trailing blood from a wound inflicted by a weapon that would have been banned by a measure he passionately opposed.

Back when 20 children and six adults who had no security detail were massacred at Sandy Hook elementary school by another maniac with an assault rifle, Scalise was at the forefront in the successful effort to challenge President Obama’s attempt to institute meaningful gun control. Scalise accused those who sought to renew the ban on assault rifles of seeking to “exploit” the murder of children.

“It’s an insult to the grieving process,” Scalise said.

His website subsequently boasted, “Congressman Scalise’s pro-gun stance has earned him an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. A member of the Congressional Second Amendment Task Force, Congressman Steve Scalise will continue fighting to protect every citizen’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

Those citizens included James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois. He was limiting the exercise of this Second Amendment right to a basic shotgun back on April 1, 2006, when he prompted a “shots fired” report to the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department.

The responding deputy determined that Hodgkinson had fired the weapon at least once in the course of a dispute where he was seeking to force his teenage foster daughter to leave a neighbor’s house.

As a result, the deputy handcuffed Hodgkinson and arrested him on charges that included two counts of domestic battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm. The deputy vouchered the shotgun and a spent shell as evidence.

For reasons known only to the prosecution, the firearm charge was dropped. Hodgkinson was charged  solely with misdemeanor battery with intent to cause bodily harm when the case reached St. Clair County Circuit Court. He seemed to be proving himself unfit to possess a weapon of any kind when he erupted into repeated outbursts at just the prospect of a friend of his foster daughter testifying against him.

The witness, Aimee Moreland, would later tell The Daily Beast that Hodgkinson’s raging triggered a series of adjournments and she repeatedly had to return to court. The day then came when she arrived late and discovered that the prosecution had moved to dismiss the case altogether as a result. The witness said the court ignored her warning, “This guy’s crazy… this is a big deal.” 

Eleven years later, Hodgkinson became the subject of another sheriff’s report:

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St. Claire County Sheriff Event Report 2017-019704.

Event date: 03/24/2017  03:05 PM

Event Type: SHOTS FIRED

Priority: HIGH

Narrative: Caller heard shots… Subject in the pine trees shooting and there are houses in the area.

The caller was William Schaumleffel. He had been in the backyard of his Belleville home with his wife and two grandchildren, aged 6 and 3, when he heard shots coming from the pine trees beyond his chain-link fence.  

“They were really loud,” Schaumleffel later told The Daily Beast.

He strode in the direction of the shots and heard several more. He saw a stocky man come from behind a shed with a rifle.

“I said, ‘Hey quit shooting! There’s houses through the woods!” Schaumleffel would recall. “It didn’t faze him apparently. He probably didn’t hear me or didn’t care.”

The man raised the rifle to his shoulder and fired four or five more shots, like the others with a particular cadence.

“It was like he was aiming at something different each time,” Schaumleffel recalled.

Schaumleffel joined his wife and grandchildren in their house. He called the sheriff.

A deputy responded and determined that Hodgkinson had upgraded to an assault rifle such as a renewed federal ban would have kept him from legally possessing. Hodgkinson’s prior arrest for firing the shotgun and his outbursts in court had not prevented him from securing  a Firearm Owners Identification card, which is needed to acquire and own a gun in Illinois.

“SUBJECT DID HAVE IN HIS POSSESSION A VALID ILLINOIS FOID CARD,” the sheriff’s report reads. “SUBJECT WAS ADVISED TO NOT DISCHARGE HIS WEAPON IN THE AREA.”

Hodgkinson soon after set off with the apparent intent of discharging his weapon elsewhere. He is said to have arrived in the Alexandria area more than two months ago with his assault rifle and a head full of craziness, a twisted Bernie bro who raged against Trump and the rich.

He may have chanced to see the congressional baseball practice as he slept in a van and showered in the YMCA near the ball field. Or, as a social media consumer, he may have seen videos of practices on the Congressional Baseball Facebook page. The posts there include one by Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat who represents the state where the Sandy Hook massacre took place and who mounted a filibuster in favor of gun control for just under 15 hours after the mass shooting with another assault rifle at the Pulse nightclub.

“Reliving our vibrant youth at Congressional baseball game practice. 7 am,” Murphy posted on June 8.

However Hodgkinson first learned about the Republican practice, he was there on Wednesday morning with his assault rifle. He once again caused two particular words to go over a police radio.

“Shots fired…”

And this time there were the added words, “Active shooter.”

As recorded by the audio of an onlooker’s cellphone video, Hodgkinson fired with that same aiming-at-something-different-each-time cadence that Schaumleffel had noted in March.

Only now he was aiming at human beings, and he hit Scalise over by second base despite the instant efforts of the majority whip’s security detail. Scalise went down and began to crawl across the field as the gunfire continued.

“The guy who’s shot out there—is he OK?” somebody called out.

The cellphone video shows Scalise sprawled in the field. And to see him was not to see a gun-control opponent or a Trump supporter or a Republican or a politician. He was a gunshot victim, as in need of help as any other, his blood as red as yours and mine.

His protectors continued to battle the gunman even after at least one of them was shot, calling out to the gunman, “Drop the weapon! Drop the weapon!”

The cadence of the protectors’ fire intensified and they brought the gunman down. The shooting ceased altogether.

In the cellphone video, figures can be seen rushing to assist Scalise. They included Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, who is also a physician and served as a combat surgeon in Iraq.

“You never expect a baseball field in America to feel like being back in a combat zone in Iraq, but this morning it did,” he later tweeted.

As night fell, Scalise and one of the other six wounded were listed in critical condition. Scalise’s wife and two young children were reportedly traveling from Louisiana to see him.

And Wenstrup was telling Fox & Friends, “If Scalise was not there, he’s the one with the security detail, we wouldn’t have had any protection, and God knows how bad that might have been.”