‘We have to change the culture’: Davis remembers own experience when discussing Texas school shooting

Mike Elbe and Rodney Davis

John Wood Community College president Mike Elbe, left, talks with U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis in the college's board room before taking Davis on a campus tour Thursday afternoon in Quincy. | David Adam

QUINCY — Five-term U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said he was “heartbroken” for the families involved after learning of the deaths of 19 students and two teachers in a Tuesday shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Incidents like that, however, bring back grievous memories of his own.

Preparing for a Congressional baseball game to raise funds for the Capitol Police Memorial Fund in Alexandria, Va., Davis was at the plate on June 14, 2017, when a man armed with an SKS rifle and a 9-mm Smith & Wesson handgun fired as many as 100 rounds at the Republican lawmakers gathered on the field for an early morning practice. The Athletic reported the gunman was an anti-Donald Trump activist.

Davis was up to bat when the first shots rang out. When he heard the screams of others, he sprinted toward the dugout. 

“(The gunman) was screaming ‘Healthcare!’ at us because he disagreed with us politically,” Davis said Thursday afternoon before touring John Wood Community College. “He verified that we were Republican members of Congress. I saw what well-trained officers do at a time of danger. We had two Capitol police officers who ran toward gunfire so we could run away, and they’re my heroes ‘til the day I die.”

As the shots continued for 10 minutes, Davis eventually fled the dugout to take shelter behind cars in the parking lot. The gunman shot and wounded four people that day — U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, U.S. Capitol police officer Crystal Griner, congressional aide Zack Barth and lobbyist Matt Mika.

“They all survived, and they’re all doing well today,” Davis said.

Alexandria and Capitol police shot and killed the gunman, James Hodgkinson.

‘I wish I had my gun to fire back’

Davis said he’s cognizant of the people who survived the Uvalde shooting and the trauma they will undergo.

“That’s something that no child, or even frankly, no adult should have to experience,” he said. “What gets frustrating is immediately, the 24-hour news cycle goes to, ‘This is a firearm problem.’ We’ve got a lot of problems that we need to address outside of the firearms part of that equation. 

“I can tell you from my experience, the first thought that went through my mind after I ran from home plate and dove into a sunken dugout was, ‘I wish I had my gun that I’m legally allowed to carry in Illinois. I wish I had my gun to fire back and help these officers.’”

Davis has received an endorsement from the National Rifle Association, and he believes the Second Amendment empowers citizens to protect their own life and property. He believes tougher gun laws do not equal less gun violence.

Davis believes mental issues bind mass shooters together

“We have to change the culture,” Davis said. “Here in America, when it comes to violence and violent activity, (it’s) just an acceptable part of growing up. We have to figure out what is the mental issue that binds these shooters together. The gentleman who came and fired me and my friends (in Alexandria) was screaming ‘Healthcare!’ at us because he disagreed with our stance on fixing Obamacare. He obviously had something wrong mentally. He might not have been diagnosed, but he did.

“What can we do up front to help get people like that the help that they need? In today’s polarized environment, unfortunately, individuals like him think they can settle their political differences with bullets on a baseball field. I don’t know enough about the shooter in Texas to understand what made him go into that school and think it was OK to commit such a heinous violent act. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Are there things that we as parents and as a society are allowing to desensitize an individual to think that it’s OK to commit a violent outlet act like that?”

Davis running against Mary Miller to represent 15th District

Davis is unconvinced the solution to the number of mass shootings in the United States (101 from 1998 to 2019, according to the New York Times) can be found in the halls of Congress.

“Unfortunately, in many cases, trying to solve a problem in (Washington) D.C. can sometimes create problems,” he said. “We’ve given historic amounts of funding for mental health assessments, mental health awareness and mental health activities. We have introduced bills and passed laws that would allow for more child psychiatrists to be available. What are they doing on the front end to get to those people who need the most help?”

Davis previously represented the 13th District, but now he is running for re-election to represent the re-drawn 15th District. He is on the ballot against Mary Miller in the Republican primary on June 28.

Davis toured GatesAir earlier in the day before touring the JWCC campus with President Mike Elbe. He then attended the Lincoln-Reagan Dinner fundraiser at Town and Country Inn and Suites,

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