STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — All he was trying to do was go to work.

In the minutes that ticked by in the 8 a.m. hour on Aug. 21, Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr. was walking through the narrow alley in the shadow of the Jefferson County courthouse when a man got out of his car in the nearby bank parking lot and opened fire.

Police say Bruzzese returned fire, and a nearby probation officer stepped in and ultimately killed the gunman. Another man who was with the attacker, sitting in the car with him, was taken into custody.

The majestic Jefferson County courthouse on Market Street stood silent the rest of the day — the two Corinthian columns support a pediment with a statue of Lady Justice; she stood brilliantly and stared out over the city of roughly 18,000 souls.

Given the odd shade of the skies due to the eclipse, the scene was disquieting.

In an emotional news conference hours later, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred J. Abdalla told reporters Bruzzese had drawn a gun and fired at least five rounds at the assailant.

"This individual laid in wait for our judge," Abdalla said, his voice wavering as tears filled his eyes. "It just hurts. First thing on Monday morning, you have a judge shot in front of his courthouse. … This was an ambush and an attempted murder on our judge."

Thank God Bruzzese was armed; thank God he had a conceal-carry permit. If not, Abdalla would likely have been holding a news conference about a tragic ending for the judge.

This close call is eerily similar to the ambushlike shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise  this summer in Virginia, when a gunman took aim and opened fire at dozens of Republican congressmen and two senators at a congressional baseball practice.

In a twist of irony, had Scalise not been there, our country would have been addressing a massacre. Because of his position as majority whip, armed Capitol Hill police were with him. The security detail saved the lives of his House colleagues and two senators.

Unlike the judge, none of those members at the practice, almost all of whom have conceal-carry permits in their home districts, were carrying that day because you cannot carry a concealed weapon in Washington (except for a few rare exceptions), and they had to go from the district to Virginia (where you can carry) to be able to practice.

Conceal-carry permit holders tend to be among the most law-abiding groups of Americans, according to data provided by the Crime Prevention Research Center. Yet the argument about guns and conceal-carry permits is one of the most heated in our country.

Guns have become a political wedge issue in the last decade — it used to be that both parties were robustly supportive of Second Amendment rights, and the push left began with the presidency of Barack Obama.

Though it never hurt Obama at the ballot box, for Democrats who were gun owners liked him personally, those same Democrats sure punished everyone down ballot for his attempts to enact gun control by voting Republican locally.

The question is: What do they do now? For eight years, the Republicans played defense on the gun issue. Now they are playing offense. But no one knows whether the Democrats want to reembrace standing by the Second Amendment.

"This is a new chance for Democrats to get right on the Second Amendment. Eight years, ago they controlled Congress and had a significant pro-gun wing, a minority wing but still a wing," Brad Todd, a Republican strategist and founding partner of OnMessage Inc., said. "They won't take Congress back while being the antigun party."

The sheriff said at the news conference that years ago, he pressed Bruzzese to carry a weapon with him for protection. Why? Because of all of the "nutcases" around the country.

Thank God he did.

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. For more information, visit www.creators.com.