POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 12, 2011
WASHINGTON » Several lawmakers vowed yesterday to arm themselves after the Arizona shootings despite the Senate's top law enforcement officer's admonition that more guns was not the answer.
"It's not that I'm going to be like Wyatt Earp," declared U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who said he was reapplying for a state permit to carry a concealed weapon even if he did not necessarily plan to carry one to public events.
In a Capitol already ringed by concrete stanchions and armed guards, members of Congress struggled to come up with new ways to ensure their safety in a democracy suddenly shaken by an assassin's bullets. Republican and Democratic leaders signaled that closer coordination with local law enforcement was a practical first step after the shootings that left six dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded.
Beyond that, talk centered on legislation that would make it a crime to carry a weapon within 1,000 feet of elected or high-ranking federal officials at publicly announced events and a proposal to install a Plexiglas enclosure to protect the House floor from gallery spectators — two ideas unlikely to get much traction in the new Congress. Democrats also called for rolling back a 5 percent, GOP-engineered cut in congressional spending and redirecting the money to security.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, seemed cool to the idea. "We will rely on the recommendations of the sergeant-at-arms and the Capitol police," he said.
A security briefing for lawmakers was scheduled for this morning.
Questioned about lawmakers taking matters into their own hands by carrying weapons, Terrance Gainer, the Senate's sergeant-at-arms and former Washington, D.C., police chief, said it would not solve the problem.
"I don't think it's a good idea," Gainer told ABC's "Good Morning America." "I don't think introducing more guns into the situation is going to be helpful."
Gainer said threats to Senate members had increased over the past year to 49. But he said he considered the number small given all the interactions that lawmakers have with the public.
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, still plans to carry his handgun at public events, his office said, despite Gainer's remarks. "It's a personal choice," said Chaffetz spokeswoman Alisia Essig.
U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., also said he plans to carry a concealed handgun more often. He obtained a permit after an angry constituent threatened his life in 2009.
Some lawmakers questioned whether sweeping changes to congressional security are logistically or politically possible.
"The body is just too large. I don't think democracy ever anticipated that there would be problems like this," said U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn.
Threats against lawmakers are not uncommon, but actual violence is quite rare.