Local, Politics

Ga. Congressman Blames Shooting on Heated Rhetoric, Not Guns

Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Credit / Representative Barry Loudermilk's Office
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Georgia Congressman Barry Loudermilk said he was preparing to go up to bat when the first shot rang out at a Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va. Wednesday morning.

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Loudermilk, a Republican from Cassville who represents Georgia’s 11th District, told WABE what went through his head as he took cover.

“It’s a feeling of vulnerability when you’re in that position and you have no way to defend yourself against somebody who has a rifle and eventually I saw somebody come around the side of the building with a handgun,” Loudermilk said.

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House Majority Whip, was critically wounded in the shooting, which injured five other people. The gunman, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, was shot by police and died at a hospital.

Loudermilk said he holds a Georgia concealed carry permit “for a reason” and believes fewer people would have been injured in his home state.

“I just lived through an incident where I was being shot at and I had no way to shoot back, and if this would have been in Georgia, it probably would have been a different story,” said Loudermilk.

The shooting took place in Virginia, which allows people to carry guns openly, and allows concealed carry with a valid permit. Loudermilk said there’s a need to look into firearms reciprocity laws with Georgia. The congressman also criticized Washington D.C.’s stricter gun control measures.

“Being here in Washington D.C. its against the law to have a handgun. Even though it’s legal in Virginia, my apartment here is in Washington,” he said.

He also said it may be time to look at increasing security details for more than just top members of Congress.

“He was targeting us. There were civilians out there, people walking their dogs in this park. They were laying on the ground with their dogs. He wasn’t shooting at them. He was targeting anybody in the baseball attire,” said Loudermilk.

Loudermilk said he thinks the tone of the public debate over the future of health care in particular is putting lawmakers in danger. He said the shooting is an example of why members of Congress have been declining to hold traditional town halls.

“I’ve had people back in the district that actually say I’m killing them because I voted to fix a broken health care system,” said Loudermilk, who said many of his fellow lawmakers hear similar messages.

He said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell who’s just emotional and who’s “emotionally deranged.” The congressman said both his own security team and local law enforcement have expressed concerns about violence at town halls.

He says there are better and more effective ways, pointing to Facebook live events and teleconferences, to engage with voters than mass gatherings. Loudermilk said he recently met with members of the progressive Indivisible movement while in Georgia.

He said it’s time for people to take a deep breath and start trying to have more civil conversations with each other about things with which they disagree.