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Michigan Lawmaker Reacts To Witnessing Tragic Virginia Scene


Michigan Congressman Jack Bergman was standing on a baseball field in northern Virginia this morning with some of his Republican colleagues. They were getting ready for their big charity game against Democrats tomorrow when he heard something.

JACK BERGMAN: The first shot, it was kind of like, what was that? And then about two seconds later, the second shot - it was pretty obvious at that point, especially those of us who've ever handled a weapon, that it was gunfire.

CORNISH: Five people were hit, including a leading Republican congressman.

BERGMAN: You could hear that gunfire had come from behind the third-base dugout. So in an effort to get ourselves out of the line of fire, those of us who were standing in that area around the batting cage started scrambling towards the dugout. Some went down into the dugout. Some of us chose to go behind the dugout. That was our first reaction.

CORNISH: And the shooter was fatally shot himself - right? - 'cause there was an exchange between he and the security detail that were surrounding Steve Scalise, the congressman who was hospitalized today.

BERGMAN: Yeah, that is correct. And the two heroes today are Steve Scalise's Capitol Police detail. Without them, this would have been literally a mass casualty event.

CORNISH: How jarring was this for you, how unexpected?

BERGMAN: Well, you don't go to a baseball practice for a charity game and expect to get shot at. But I've also been a Marine for 40 years, and I understand that things happen. And you have to be realistic very quickly about the situation that you're in.

CORNISH: You are a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant. As you said, you've handled a weapon. But at the same time, does this make you fearful for your own safety, right? This is not the first time in the last few years that there has been an attack on a congressperson.

BERGMAN: No, I don't fear for my safety.

CORNISH: You had tweeted today that, quote, "we're learning more about motive, but this is a good time to reflect on division and unity." Can you talk about your thinking there because people are already starting to speculate about the motive and starting to ascribe it to political motivations?

BERGMAN: You know, I'm very proud of our freshman class here in the 115th Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. We as a group signed a commitment to civility letter, oh, probably about three weeks after we were sworn in in January because as freshmen, again, Democrat and Republican both, we came here to make tough decisions for the country. We view life differently in many cases, but the goal is still the same. Do the right thing for the American people. We agreed to argue the issues, debate the points but not attack each other.

CORNISH: When these shootings have happened across the country, you know, they feel quite far from Washington. What, if anything, does it do for you to have it so close to home - right? - to have it affect you all, the legislators who can actually discuss and debate what, if anything, can be done about it?

BERGMAN: I think there is opportunity here for us as legislators to talk in a very realistic and honest way about the events that occurred today and what it is that we can do to prevent these going forward as an elected body.

CORNISH: I understand the congressional baseball game is set to continue. How are you feeling about that? You plan to take the field?

BERGMAN: Absolutely, absolutely because this game has been going on for a long time. And this year, we're going to raise over $600,000 for disadvantaged kids around the greater D.C. metro area and some good charities. So the game will go on tomorrow. I encourage everybody to come out, participate. Let's really ramp up the attendance and show the world that we are so much better when we come through adversity together.

CORNISH: Michigan Representative Jack Bergman speaking about the shooting this morning of five people at a congressional Republicans' baseball team practice. Thank you for speaking with us.

BERGMAN: It's my honor. Thank you.

CORNISH: We'll learn more about the gunman elsewhere in the program, and our coverage continues first thing tomorrow. Be sure to listen to MORNING EDITION for more.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Rep. Bergman is referred to as a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant. He is a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 14, 2017 at 11:00 PM CDT
In this story, Rep. Bergman is referred to as a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant. He is a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general.