[Victoria Macchi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

June 14, 2017: The Congressional Baseball Game Changes Forever

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The annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity is a long-standing bipartisan tradition where members of the United States Congress are divided into teams by political affiliation to compete in a friendly baseball match. On June 14, 2017, in Alexandria, Virginia, however, the fun was quickly replaced with terror as shots rang out during the Republican practice.

The assailant, James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old man from Belleville, Illinois, approached the field armed with a 7.62mm caliber SKS rifle and a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun. He began shooting at the players and others present, leading to a chaotic and dangerous situation. Hodgkinson, who had a history of expressing vehement anti-Republican views on social media, appeared to have specifically targeted the Republican members of Congress.

Several people were wounded in the attack. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was the most severely injured, suffering a gunshot wound to his hip that caused significant internal damage. He underwent multiple surgeries and faced a long recovery process. Others injured included Congressional aide Zach Barth, lobbyist Matt Mika, and two Capitol Police officers, Crystal Griner and David Bailey, who were part of Scalise’s security detail.

The quick and brave response of the Capitol Police officers was critical in preventing a larger tragedy. Despite being injured, Officers Griner and Bailey engaged Hodgkinson, returning fire and eventually incapacitating him. Their actions allowed first responders to reach the scene and provide urgent medical care to the wounded. Hodgkinson later died from injuries sustained during the shootout.

The assassination attempt stunned the nation and prompted a significant discourse on political rhetoric, security for public officials, and gun control laws. Many saw the attack as a manifestation of the rising political tensions and animosity that had been brewing in the United States. It underscored the potential dangers of incendiary political discourse and the impact it can have on individuals prone to violence.

In the aftermath, there was a remarkable display of unity among members of Congress. The annual baseball game, scheduled for the following day, proceeded as planned with a renewed sense of purpose and camaraderie. Both Democratic and Republican members took to the field, dedicating the game to the victims of the shooting and to the broader message of unity and resilience. The event drew a large crowd and raised significant funds for charity, reflecting a collective desire to move beyond the divisiveness and focus on common values.

Steve Scalise’s recovery was closely followed by the public. He returned to Congress on September 28, 2017, to a standing ovation, symbolizing not only his personal resilience but also the strength of the Congressional community in the face of adversity. His journey highlighted the physical and emotional toll such acts of violence can have on individuals and their families.

The shooting also led to changes in security protocols for members of Congress. Lawmakers and their staff received increased training on how to handle active shooter situations, and there was a push for more robust security measures during public events. The Capitol Police’s role was further scrutinized, and their presence at Congressional practices and similar events was enhanced to ensure better protection.

In 2024, eight years after the shooting, Scalise took the field again for the first time, earning a walk and getting much applause.

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