A GUNMAN has opened fire on Republican members of Congress who were practicing for a charity baseball game near Washington.
Senior Republican leader Steve Scalise and several others were injured in the attack before the offender was fatally shot by police.
Witnesses said the shooter fired repeatedly with a rifle at the baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, before being wounded in a gunfight with Capitol Hill police who were at the scene.
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Scalise, No. 3 in the House of Representatives Republican leadership, was shot in the hip. His fellow lawmakers helped him before he was transported to a hospital.
Also wounded were one current congressional staffer and one former staffer. Two police officers were hospitalised after the incident but it was not clear if both were wounded by gunfire.
Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama told CNN he saw the man only for a second, and that he was shooting from a fence behind the third base position on the field where the congressional group was holding an early morning practice session.
“There must have been 50 to 100 shots fired,” Mr Brooks said, adding he helped apply a tourniquet with his belt to a congressional staffer who was shot in the leg.
“I hear Steve Scalise over near second base scream. He was shot.
“One of our security detail was shooting back, but it was our pistol versus the shooter’s rifle.”
The gunman, identified by a senior US official as James Hodgkinson from Illinois, died of his injuries.
His social media presence indicated the 66-year-old was strongly opposed to Republicans, including President Donald Trump, and had supported Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Sanders said he was “sickened” by the shooting calling it a “despicable act”, while revealing the alleged shooter had apparently volunteered in his presidential campaign.
Police and the FBI said it was too early to determine a motive in the shooting or whether the attack was an attempted political assassination.
Trump announced the gunman’s death and called Scalise, a 51-year-old Louisiana congressman, a good friend. Speaking at the White House, Trump said Scalise was “badly injured” but in stable condition and would recover.
Around 30 Republican members of the House and Senate had gathered for an early morning practice a day before the annual charity congressional baseball game pitting Republicans against Democrats.
Two witnesses at the scene said the shooter asked them who was practising and they’d confirmed it was Republicans.
Brooks said the shooter said nothing during the rampage.
“But for the Capitol police and the heroism they showed, it could very well have been a large-scale massacre. All we would have had would have been baseball bats versus a rifle. Those aren’t good odds,” Brooks said.
The shooting will raise the contentious issue of gun violence in the United States.
At a news conference near the scene of the shooting, Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, urged gun control measures
“This is not what today is about, but there are too many guns on the street,” McAuliffe said, citing a statistic that 93 Americans are killed with guns daily.
Scalise has been a strong opponent of gun control measures and has earned an “A+” rating from the National Rifle Association.