At a press briefing today, FBI Special Agent Tim Slater said that members of a “dignitary protection team” were the first responders to James T. Hodgkinson’s attack on the GOP Congressional baseball practice game in Alexandria. That’s Washington-speak for “bodyguards” — and, in this case, “dignitary the bodyguards were there for was Representative Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip.
Despite the fact that dozens of Senators and Representatives of all levels of seniority milled about on an open, unsecured field, Rep. Scalise was the only person that the government security services deemed important enough to warrant protection. Ironically, he was the man who was the victim most seriously wounded in the attack.
That’s not particularly surprising. Resources are limited, priorities have to be prioritized. Sometimes you’re the last person to get on the train; sometimes the train leaves without you. More on that in a minute.
Senator Rand Paul’s eyewitness account to MSNBC’s Morning Joe is very illuminating for a lot of reasons. Mr. Paul has a physician’s mind and very clinically dissects what was going on from his perspective. It’s worth listening to, particularly for anyone wanting to know how these attacks go down, and the sorts of decisions that must be made — in a split-second, with dire consequences for choosing poorly. I’ve transcribed some of the relevant portions below.
Sen. Paul was in one of the batting cages behind a tall fence when the attack began.
The first shot was sort of an isolated shot…. Then…there was a rapid succession…five or ten shots…. I’m outside the perimeter, I’m on the right field line in the batting cages outside the field…in the field I see Rep. Scalise is shot, but moving, and he’s trying to drag himself through the dirt through the outfield.
There’s two staffers in the field…they were laying down, but I’m seeing the shots hitting the dirt around them. They’re trying to make a difficult decision: do we lay here, stay low and hope he doesn’t hit us…? You have to make a decision at some point whether to stay or run. One of the staffers scrambled up over the fence [JKP: to Paul’s side of the fence], it was probably a 15-20 foot fence, he did it in about two seconds…. I don’t think I could’ve done that! He and I were hiding behind a tree.
But it takes a few minutes to determine — you’re not sure where they’re coming from. My instinct was they were coming from the third base line, and as more shots were fired, we were pretty sure that was [true], but we were kind of not sure which side of the tree to stand on. Because you’re not sure where the shots are coming from.
Everyone seemed to be congregating away from the third base side, behind small buildings in the dugout. The people in the field, unfortunately, didn’t have much of a chance because nobody could get to them, and they couldn’t get to us…. There was no way to get to people like Scalise until the firing would stop….
I think he continued to reload, I probably heard 50-60 shots, and then finally we heard a response from the Capitol Hill Police. We’re actually very lucky they were there…. I could see him way in the distance…the gun sounded like an AR15 to most of us…we couldn’t see the gun, but it was a rifle.
One of the thing that’s really fortunate is that everyone probably would have died except for the fact that Capitol Hill Police were there and, the only reason they were there was because we had a member of leadership on his team. If Scalise hadn’t been on our team…it probably saved everyone else’s life. If you don’t have a leadership person, there probably would’ve been no security there….
We live in a free and open country, you know, a lot of people think when I travel I’ve got security, but we’re just like normal people. I go to the grocery store like a normal person, I go to the gas station. We live in a country where we hope there’s not such hatred or craziness. I don’t know. Disappointing. Sad.
We were picked up by a car driving by, we jumped in the car and left the scene…. The Capitol Hill Police, incredibly brave, probably saved the lives of everybody…. Had they not been there, it would’ve been a massacre…. We had no weapons and no place to hide. If he’d had advanced on the rest of us, there’d have been no chance. The only chance we had was that the shots were returned by Capitol Hill Police….
There’s a lot that can be learned from Sen. Paul’s riveting account, But the question I’d like everyone to consider — and this not to offend, joke, or insult, but as a serious question — why were the security services the only ones armed? They wouldn’t have even been there except for the presence of the House Majority Whip. Did no one think that a group of Senators, Representatives and their staffers gathering at an unsecured baseball field might pose a tempting, soft target for any two-bit loser who wanted to make a name for himself?
More likely, the thought never crossed anyone’s mind. It’s easy to fall into a mindset that someone else is going to take care of your physical safety for you. Insanely easy if you’re a politician in DC. But the rest of us ordinary folk aren’t immune to the siren call of “condition white” either, even though we don’t even rate a mention on the protection priority list.
Physical safety isn’t something to be delegated in extremis. Plan B has to be ready, thought through, before the balloon goes up.
The late Jeff Cooper commented that once someone in the public eye took his armed self-defense course at Gunsite, they ceased to employ bodyguards, except to “watch their car.” I suppose there’s something both frightening and liberating that occurs when we all realize that we’re our own best bodyguard. That lesson was driven home to some of the most powerful politicians in the country today.
At the very least, I hope that people still on the fence about the Second Amendment remember that when the rest of us — ordinary, decent citizens all — insist on having the chance to protect ourselves from terrorists like the one who hit Alexandria this morning.
UPDATE: At least one Congressman agrees. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) has announced that his gun is “going to be in my pocket from this day forward.”