2 Lawmakers to Carry Guns in Home Districts

People gather at the scene of a shooting involving Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2011 in Tucson, Ariz.
Dean Knuth,AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star
People gather at the scene of a shooting involving Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., on Jan. 8, 2011 in Tucson, Ariz.
Dean Knuth,AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star

In the wake of the horrific shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday, some lawmakers have already decided that they need to do more to protect themselves.

Two members of Congress - Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) - told Politico that they plan to carry guns while in their home districts. Both men hold conceal and carry permits. They do not plan to carry the weapons while in the District of Columbia.

Lawmakers receive a measure of protection from the U.S. Capitol Police while in the District, though the vast majority are not provided with any protection elsewhere. (The leaders of the House and Senate do get a security detail.) Many travel only with unarmed staffers and have little in the way of protection when away from the Capitol.

On Sunday afternoon, Capitol Police held a conference call with House lawmakers from both parties. House Speaker John Boehner told members that the House Sergeant at Arms, Capitol Police and FBI will hold a security briefing for Members on Wednesday, CBS News Senior Political Producer Jill Jackson reports.

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Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood reminder those on the call to always be aware of their surroundings and to report any suspicious circumstances to local police and to the Capitol Police Threat Assessment. Bill Morse, Chief of the Capitol Police, also made recommendations for how lawmakers can protect themselves.

More than 800 lawmakers, family and staff were on the conference call, according to House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn). "We're all in this together," Larson told his fellow members. He encouraged them to always coordinate their public appearances with local police.

A lone bunch of flowers lays on the floor near the Capitol Hill office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Concerns about member safety increased in the wake of the town hall meetings of the summer of 2009, where Americans were seen objecting to health care reform efforts in angry and emotional terms.

Not long after came reports that lawmakers had been on the receiving end of personal threats - and that some, including Giffords, had had their offices vandalized (In Giffords' case, following the health care vote in March). The incidents prompted calls for lawmakers to ratchet down their rhetoric in order to avoid encouraging violence against elected officials.

But few lawmakers could have imagined a scene like the one which unfolded Saturday, when 22-year-old Jared Loughner allegedly shot Giffords in the head at point-blank range. The shooting has forced members to reassess where they draw the line between being accessible to their constituents and protecting themselves.

On the conference call Sunday afternoon, Larson said he expected members to continue holding town hall meetings and otherwise interact with constituents in relatively low-security settings. He told members, "that's our responsibility, that's what we're sworn to do."

Saturday's tragedy was a stark reminder of the risk that comes with that responsibility.

"We can be shot down in our district, but we can also be shot walking over to the Capitol," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) told Politico. "We have a lot of people outside who appear to be fragile emotionally. So we don't know when one will walk up and shoot us down. We're vulnerable, and there's no real way to protect us."

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