BY JACOB OGLES, THURSDAY JUN 15, 2017

A shooting at a practice for a Congressional baseball game brought the gun control debate back to the forefront on the Gulf Coast; one member of the US House representing Sarasota County had only left the field minutes before the high-profile attack unfolded.

According to investigators, gunman James Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old from Illinois, arrived at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park shortly after 7am and fired. Hodgkinson shot Rep. Steve Scalise, Republican Majority Whip, and engaged with police around 7:14am. Five people ultimately were transported to the hospital, including Hodgkinson and Scalise. Hodgkinson died at the hospital. Federal officials say he was equipped with a rifle and handgun, and the FBI continues to investigate, including his associates, whereabouts, social media and potential motivations.

Two Florida congressmen had recently left the baseball practice, being held in advance of an annual charity game between Congressional Republicans and Democrats. US Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee and the representative for south Sarasota County, had been practicing with the Republican team on Wednesday morning, but left minutes before a shooter started firing at the field, staffers told SRQ. Rooney later told CNBC he had to take a child to school or he would have been at the field as events unfolded. US Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Port Orange, told media outlets including Fox News and NBC News that the gunman had approached him and another congressman outside the stadium to ask if Republicans or Democrats were practicing at the field.

Political leaders on the Gulf Coast who favor expansion of gun rights and those who would like restrictions saw ways the shooting would have been impacted by different regulation.

Christian Ziegler, state committeeman for the Republican Party of Sarasota County and a former aide for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said he believes part of the problem in D.C. is that Congressmen cannot carry concealed weapons themselves, even if they hold a permit in their states. In Washington, Ziegler says he was constantly aware of how open congressmen remain to threats. “I was always aware that there were a lot of threats to D.C.—against both individual elected officials and our government as a whole—and that it was impossible to have security protect every member of Congress,” he says. That makes it important for members of Congress to be able to defend themselves.

But Linda Moratti, a board member for the Venice Area Democratic Club, says the problem remains that it’s too easy to obtain a high-powered firearm. “I’d like to see increased background checks for people with mental illness, but don’t know if in this case that would have done it,” she says. “I’d also like to see a ban on assault-type rifles.” Democrats in February held a Brady Gun Control Rally advocating for restrictions.

Moratti doesn’t believe that Republicans will respond because the gun lobby holds too much influence in that caucus, including with Rooney, her own congressman. Ziegler, though, said instead of relatively leaping into debates about gun control, officials should consider how to make it easier for law-abiding citizens to carry and defend themselves from criminals. View Online Article

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