Congress Seeks Balance Between Openness and Security

Usually, after incidents like this weekend’s shooting of 20 people in Arizona, including Arizona Sen. Gabrielle Giffords, the focus is on addressing the conditions that led the shooter down the path to violence. When Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on Virginia Tech’s campus in April 2007, killing 32 before turning the gun on himself, for example, the scrutiny was more on how his mental illness went unnoticed and less on the security in place at the school.

And while that certainly is a topic of discussion in this case – several of alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner’s classmates have described him as seeming unbalanced, and he has had several run-ins with the police – the scrutiny this time is on the other side: Congressional security, or really, the lack of it.

Aside from the metal detectors that line the doors to the Capitol building, members of Congress don’t have any sort of security, especially at local meet-and-greet events with constituents, like the one Giffords was at in a Tuscon shopping center. This stems from a number of factors, including that the logistics of providing individual security for 535 people would prove difficult and incredibly expensive. And with the federal debt at a record high, that kind of funding is not an option.

But even if it were, many representatives say they wouldn’t want a personal security detail.

“Even if they gave us each a bodyguard, many of us wouldn’t take it, including myself,” said Mike Capuano, D-Mass. “The Capitol is pretty secure as far as I know, but when you’re out in the street, there’s really not much you can do. We all know there nuts out there.”

This tradition of openness between elected officials and their constituents means that officials don’t want to put a barrier in between them and their constituents – those who hold the power to return them to office, if you’re taking the cynical view.

Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, have said they will start carrying guns, and Shuler said he’s going to encourage his staff to carry weapons, too. While that may work for members from Utah and North Carolina, you can be sure that staunch gun-control advocates like Washington state’s Patty Murray, a Democrat, will most certainly not choose that avenue of protection.

Outside of guns, though, anything members do to increase security will also increase their distance from their constituents, which we’ve already established as undesirable. Is exposure to danger just going to end up being part of the job duties for members of Congress? Or can we find some sort of balance between security and openness? What do you think?

Posted by Laura Williams on Jan 10, 2011

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