WASHINGTON — That terrible gunfire in an Alexandria ballpark? Is it finally going to change anything?
“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said to bipartisan applause Wednesday, after a shooting at a GOP baseball practice left Rep. Steve Scalise in critical condition and injured four others.
The most curious part of that quote is “us.” Who is this “us” in Ryan’s dirge?
On Capitol Hill, members of Congress were visibly shaken, and they comforted each other in the marble halls of power high on a hill.
The gunman, James Hodgkinson, a vehemently anti-Trump volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign, was living in a van for a while before he opened fire on Republican lawmakers and aides. The 66-year-old home inspector from Belleville, Ill., died from the gunshots that police responded with.
Thoughts and prayers followed, and Republicans and Democrats all vowed that their bipartisan congressional ballgame will go on Thursday night at Nationals Park.
“And we are united,” Ryan said. “We are united in our shock, we are united in our anguish.”
Now? Now there is shock and anguish?
Why didn’t the death of little Jonathan Martinez - a 9-year-old shot in a San Bernardino classroom in April as a gunman stalked and killed his wife - merit shock and anguish on Capitol Hill?
What about the woman visiting the Statue of Liberty in April who was shot in the leg when two ticket scalpers opened fire on each other? Isn’t she “us”?
Somehow, many of our lawmakers have decided that this is not the American carnage they will mourn. No tears. No shock. And certainly no effort to do anything to stop it.
Every day in our country, thousands of innocent people living their lives - playing baseball, sitting in their office cubicle, crossing a street, going to school, getting something at the grocery, making dinner, watching a movie, waiting to see a doctor, going to Bible study, dancing in a nightclub - and they are shot.
Just like Scalise and the others on that baseball field, they are attacked.
Aren’t they “us” too?
Or are they just collateral damage, business as usual in a country bristling with as many guns as there are people.
But a congressman is shot and then they cry.
The same thing happened on Capitol Hill six years ago when then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in the head meeting with constituents outside a Tucson grocery store. That shooting was much worse, with 19 people shot and six killed.
There was shock and little more, Giffords wrote Thursday in The Washington Post.
“We know, as always, that no one law could prevent a shooting like this. But we also know that we must acknowledge a problem: an unacceptable rate of gun violence in this country,” she wrote. “And we must acknowledge that a deadly problem like this brings a responsibility to find solutions.”
Now is the time to finally stop pretending that immigrants or border walls or press leaks or coal jobs are a top priority for America.
Nearly 7,000 Americans have already been killed this year by gunfire. Every year, 22,000 people use guns to commit suicide, including veterans.
This is the real American carnage that Congress refuses to tackle.
You want to make America great again? How about we go back to being an America where my kids get fire drills - not active shooter drills - at school. That would be great.
But the answer from Republican lawmakers shaken by the shooting in Alexandria?
These are the same lawmakers who voted to let people with mental illness have access to guns, who voted to allow people on the terrorism watch list to buy guns, who voted to make it easier to buy gun silencers, who voted to support the sale of weapons that are designed for nothing but mass killing. These are the same lawmakers who take thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the National Rifle Association.
Hours after the shooting on Wednesday, Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., a member of the GOP baseball squad who witnessed what happened, said Congress should allow lawmakers to carry weapons to defend themselves.
“If this had happened in Georgia, he wouldn’t have gotten too far,” Loudermilk told reporters Wednesday at the Capitol. “I had a staff member who was in his car maybe 20 yards behind the shooter, who was pinned in his car, who back in Georgia carries a 9-millimeter in his car… . He had a clear shot at him. But here, we’re not allowed to carry any weapons here.”
Seriously? We lost more than 33,500 Americans to gunfire last year. That’s my entire hometown and the next town over. Gone.
If Ryan is serious about “an attack on all of us,” it’s time to find a real answer.
America is better than this, better than bloodshed on a ballfield on a summer morning.
Petula Dvorak is a Washington Post columnist.