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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Security Changes Likely After Arizona Attack

January 9, 2011

The country continues to grasp the tragedy that occurred in Tucson, Arizona, which left U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life, six dead, and 12 wounded.

Almost immediately after the shooting authorities and members of the media were theorizing that increased political rhetoric in the country might be responsible for inciting persons on the psychological edge to act on their violent impulses.

No one knows why this senseless violence occurred. Many have looked at the writings and rants posted by the alleged shooter on the Internet and have quickly arrived at the conclusion that he is mentally unstable.

It's unclear what steps can be taken to ensure something like this doesn't happen again. We live in an open society. Yet many are already calling for increased security for rank and file members of Congress. Currently only those in top leadership positions have detailed security outside the main Capitol building.

The other dynamic is that innocent bystanders are also endangered when there is an attack against a public official. No one can stand idly by without feeling an enormous amount of pain for the innocent killed in this tragedy, especially nine-year old Christina-Taylor Green.

Using history as a guide though it is almost certain that security changes for members of Congress will result because of this attack.

There was a time in the not too distant past when the public could freely wander the halls of the Capitol Building. A shooting rampage in 1998 that left two security guards dead changed all that, and it’s no longer possible to freely enter the Capitol, let alone explore nooks and crannies of the building.

Guarding members of Congress on an around-the-clock basis is a more difficult proposition. Members live and mingle among constituents in their districts, and the idea of providing them with a personal security detail will be difficult and expensive.

It could also diminish the free and open contact between members and their constituents, and promulgate the attitude among voters that Congress is an "elite" political class. The strength of our Democratic way of life is dependent upon the free exchange of ideas, philosophies, and disagreements between the people and their government.

I remember my own days as a state Representative and how important it was to host town meetings and freely attend community events. It was my only opportunity to personally listen to the people of my district, and it was a necessity to do the job.

Nonetheless there will be security changes, and hopefully they will protect the public but not further frustrate voters who already feel alienated from their government.

Answers to these acts of violence are difficult to find but the notion that talk radio or some other political discourse could be responsible is off base. Still, there is no guarantee that it won't happen again.

More than likely the real answer lies in the life, times, and inside the mind of the shooter himself.