Re­con­sid­er­ing se­cu­rity ideas af­ter shoot­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - MATT MACK­OWIAK Matt Mack­owiak is the pres­i­dent of Austin­based Po­tomac Strat­egy Group, a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant, a Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and Bush-Cheney re-elec­tion cam­paign vet­eran, and for­mer press sec­re­tary to two U.S. sen­a­tors. He is the host of a new na

The shock­ing news that a gun­man opened fire on a base­ball prac­tice for Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress re­ver­ber­ated across Wash­ing­ton, the na­tion and the world in the early morn­ing hours Wed­nes­day. Short of the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks and its threat to the U.S. Capi­tol and the Pen­tagon, it is hard to re­call a time in our re­cent his­tory when a large group of elected of­fi­cials were tar­geted for as­sas­si­na­tion.

There will be time for the de­ceased shooter’s mo­tive to be de­ter­mined, and ques­tions of po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion have been asked.

We are all awestruck by the brav­ery and skill of U.S. Capi­tol Po­lice of­fi­cers, who hap­pened to be at the prac­tice only be­cause they were as­signed to pro­tect House Ma­jor­ity Whip Steve Scalise, who was wounded in the at­tack. Eye­wit­ness Sen. Rand Paul, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, told CNN that “no one would have sur­vived with­out the Capi­tol Po­lice . ... It was a mas­sacre with­out them.”

Those who have never worked on Capi­tol Hill may be un­der the im­pres­sion that mem­bers of the House and Se­nate have round-the­clock se­cu­rity. They don’t. When they are in­side the Capi­tol, they are pro­tected. In­deed, the Capi­tol is one of the most se­cure build­ings in our coun­try.

But when they step out­side the Capi­tol, they are on their own.

The ad­van­tage to this type of free­dom is that law­mak­ers can in­ter­act with a wide va­ri­ety of peo­ple, deal­ing di­rectly with their con­stituents when they are in their dis­tricts. To rep­re­sent peo­ple, you have to be avail­able to re­ceive feed­back, hear con­cerns, an­swer ques­tions and take crit­i­cism.

But per­haps now is a re­spon­si­ble time to reeval­u­ate the sit­u­a­tion.

I worked as a press sec­re­tary for two U.S. sen­a­tors from 2005 to 2009, and dur­ing that time one of my bosses had a stalker. Un­til that sit­u­a­tion was re­solved, this elected of­fi­cial had Capi­tol Po­lice present ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing out­side the Capi­tol.

The only mem­bers of Con­gress who have se­cu­rity are those in lead­er­ship in both houses, which amounts to a hand­ful of mem­bers. Surely, this type of se­cu­rity is ex­pen­sive. It is, at some level, un­nec­es­sary. Most mem­bers of Con­gress have never had a se­ri­ous, cred­i­ble threat is­sued against them.

But many of us re­mem­ber the as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on for­mer Rep. Gabby Gif­fords in Tuc­son in Jan­uary 2011. The Ari­zona Demo­crat sur­vived be­ing shot in the head in that at­tack, when six peo­ple were killed.

A 2011 Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice re­port lists nine mem­bers of Con­gress who have been shot and 24 mem­bers of Con­gress who have been at­tacked since 1789.

Cer­tainly, these oc­cur­rences are rare, but isn’t the se­cu­rity of our elected of­fi­cials a na­tional pri­or­ity?

Mem­bers of Con­gress should im­me­di­ately re-eval­u­ate the se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures that they use in their of­fices, es­pe­cially back in their dis­tricts and states.

One bright spot from this ter­ri­ble in­ci­dent was the stir­ring mo­ment of na­tional unity of­fered by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi. Mem­bers were in the House cham­ber gave both sides a stand­ing ova­tion af­ter the two ad­dressed their col­leagues. We need more of this.

The best thing that I saw some­one say in the af­ter­math of the shoot­ing was from Penn­syl­va­nia Rep. Mike Doyle, the man­ager of the Demo­cratic base­ball team, who ob­served, “It shouldn’t take an in­ci­dent like this to bring us to­gether.”

“I have been re­flect­ing a lot lately on how we can still main­tain our prin­ci­ples and our leg­isla­tive agen­das, but we can do it in a more civil way,” Mr. Doyle con­tin­ued. “And when the lead­er­ship of this coun­try is civil to one an­other, maybe the pub­lic will start be­ing civil to­wards one an­other too.”

This is ex­actly right — we can dis­agree with­out be­ing dis­agree­able. We can op­pose a per­son’s pol­icy views with­out de­mo­niz­ing the per­son. Ad­vo­cat­ing vi­o­lence against a pub­lic of­fi­cial is never ac­cept­able.

In pol­i­tics, our na­tion has grav­i­tated to­ward shock­ing speech and com­men­tary, and so­cial me­dia has made shar­ing such con­tent eas­ier than ever.

If one by-prod­uct of this shoot­ing is that it brings our coun­try to­gether and strength­ens the pa­tri­o­tism of our elected of­fi­cials, then that will be a very good thing.


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