Scalise was airlifted to MedStar. Over the next several days, he underwent a series of surgeries. Meanwhile, for the first time since Gabby Giffords was shot in the head in 2011, Americans breathed the phrase “assassination attempt” aloud.
The story may be familiar, but folks like Barton grapple with new facets of it all the time, remembering the particular ring of that first round of bullets, or how there is nothing so wrenching as not knowing whether you can protect your own child. The lawmakers on the field that day still gather from time to time, Barton told me, to talk through those impossible 10 minutes and their aftermath.
Which is why he finds it all the more frustrating, Barton told me on Thursday evening, when people cry that Republicans are unfeeling, uncaring in the aftermath of a mass shooting, like Wednesday’s tragedy in a Parkland, Florida, high school, where 17 people were murdered. “In terms of feelings, I don’t think there’s a difference between a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican,” he said. “Regardless of your viewpoint, you’re just as upset. We care just as much. I can guarantee you that GOP members of the baseball team care.”
“We all want to do what’s right,” he added. “We just have different philosophical viewpoints.”
Here’s another story Americans know well. Following a mass shooting, before the smell of gunsmoke has dissipated, Democrats plead for Congress to take up something, anything, on gun control. Republicans issue thoughts and prayers, and they are mocked for those thoughts and prayers. Social-media users share just how much money each Republican lawmaker receives from the National Rifle Association. (Barton received $11,200 from gun-rights groups in the 2016 election cycle.) Republicans, in turn, ask how the tragedy at hand would have been prevented by a weapons ban, or stricter background checks. It is a vicious cycle. It is a fast cycle. And it goes dormant until the next shooting.
I asked a number of Republican lawmakers to speak about what they think about in these moments, and what, if anything, could be done legislatively to prevent the “next time.” Barton was the only one who agreed to talk. And he happened to be one of the few who had experienced an attempted mass shooting firsthand. His feelings on gun control hadn’t changed since then, he told me, but he does feel more committed to giving authorities more power to surveill or arrest those who exhibit the “warning signs” of a shooter.
“It affects you when you get shot at, when your children get shot at,” he said. “In our case we had one shooter, a guy from Illinois mad that Trump won, and decided to come to Washington and shoot GOP congressmen. In Florida, this was somebody who’d been kicked out of school, turned into the FBI, so you wanna ask the people who investigated this young man: Why didn’t they try to do something?