Gunman shoots, we become family
As the wife of a U.S. senator, I work hard to keep separate my marriage and my career as a newspaper columnist.
Normally, I mention my husband, Sherrod Brown, only when the disclosure is necessary or I am writing a personal essay that has nothing to do with politics.
However, on this Wednesday morning, two hours after news first broke of the shooting at a baseball practice for congressional Republicans, I am incapable of writing about anything else.
Most of the time, I live and work in Cleveland, so I am not a part of Sherrod’s daily routine when he is in Washington. But as anyone who loves a member of Congress can attest, our fears — both spoken and desperately buried — unite us. From the moment the news broke, we were family.
This has been increasingly true since Jan. 8, 2011, when a gunman shot then-Rep. Gabby Giffords in the head and killed six others in a supermarket parking lot. All congressional spouses, as we’re often called, can tell you where they were when they first heard about that tragedy. When something bad happens to any member of Congress or to the staff that sustains these public servants or to someone in the protective Capitol Police, political differences evaporate.
As I write, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise remains in critical condition after a gunman opened fire on a neighborhood baseball field in suburban Washington. Scalise was playing second base when he was shot. He fell to the ground and reportedly “army crawled” his way into taller grass. His teammates, all of them fellow members of Congress, dropped to the ground or ran for cover, unable to immediately help him as the gunman continued to shoot from the third-base dugout.
“There was so much gunfire you couldn’t get up and run,” Rep. Mike Bishop told The New York Times. “Pop, pop, pop, pop — it’s a sound I’ll never forget.”
A bystander’s video released midafternoon offers horrifying corroboration. Four others were injured, including two Capitol Police officers — heroes, both of them — a congressional aide and a lobbyist.
As we waited for updates, Republicans canceled a congressional hearing about gun legislation scheduled for that same morning. As CNN reported, the bill up for debate “would make it easier to purchase silencers, transport guns across state lines and ease restrictions on armor-piercing bullets.”
I have so much to say about that, but not in this column. I understand that even my writing that will spark outrage on both sides of the debate. Usually, I weigh in, no question. Today, though, I’m a wife first and a member of the congressional family. I’m not asking for anyone’s sympathy.
Gun deaths are rising in many cities, including in Cleveland. By the end of this day, more people in America will have died from gun violence. None of us will ever know their names. There is so much wrong about that.
Right now, I keep thinking about the camaraderie of those congressional baseball teams. Sherrod and I had not yet married when, in 2003, I climbed into a van full of his fellow Democrats after their practice for the House baseball game, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity every year. It was a loud ride with boisterous, grass-stained men still high from two hours of reliving their boyhoods.
Their joy was infectious, on that ride home and on game day, too, when Democratic and Republican fans filled the stands for a game of Partisan Lite.
My favorite moment from that particular game was when Sherrod, playing second base, looked around until he found me sitting in the eighth row.
The weight of the world would return to his shoulders soon enough, but in that instant, he smiled up at me like a high-school boy who couldn’t believe that his girlfriend had shown up to watch him play.
It is so easy to imagine that same lightheartedness in those Republican congressmen as they gathered at 6:30 Wednesday morning and shuffled onto the field at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Virginia — past their prime, maybe, but not over their dreams.
A half-hour later, the gunfire started.
At 8:49 a.m., Gabby Giffords tweeted: “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police — public servants and heroes today and every day.”
We were waiting to hear from her, many of us in the congressional family. We needed her, I hope you can understand.
Editor’s note: Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism.