THROUGH THE CONGRESSIONAL LOOKING GLASS…. I can appreciate why members of Congress have taken a renewed interest in their personal safety this week, but some of the proposals seem off-track.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.), for example, has talked up a bill that would make it a crime to bring a gun within 1,000 feet of a government official. This idea probably won’t go far.
Others are getting even more creative.
An aide to Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) tells CBS News that the Indiana Republican plans to introduce legislation next week that would encase the House Gallery in “a transparent and substantial material” such as Plexiglas that would keep members of the public from being able to throw explosives or make other attacks on members on the House floor.
Burton has introduced similar legislation in the past. It reads in part, “The Architect of the Capitol shall enclose the visitors’ galleries of the House of Representatives with a transparent and substantial material, and shall install equipment so that the proceedings on the floor of the House of Representatives will be clearly audible in the galleries.”
If you’ve never been in the House chamber, there’s a fair amount of public seating above the floor. It’s entirely open — there’s nothing but distance between spectators and lawmakers. Burton is effectively calling for a shield to go in, encasing the chamber for members’ safety.
To be sure, this openness has been exploited in the past. In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire from the public seating, shooting five House members. Proponents of Burton’s idea are likely to reference this to bolster their case.
But it doesn’t stand up well to scrutiny. Since 1954, security on Capitol Hill has intensified significantly. There weren’t even metal detectors for those entering the building in 1954.
Ezra Klein runs down some related ideas being floated for congressional security, all of which seem well-intentioned but misplaced, and raises a good point.
And all this would solve … what? In the past three decades, there haven’t been five members of Congress shot by constituents. There haven’t been two. There’s been one. And it’s not at all clear that most of these proposal would’ve even prevented that shooting.
I don’t want to downplay the horror of what happened in Arizona. But attaching a police officer to every congressional event or trying to train aides who’re supposed to be listening to constituents to instead try and assess the threat level they pose is not the right way to grieve. We’ve suffered a tragedy, but there’s no evidence, at least as of yet, that legislators are in much everyday danger. That’s in stark contrast with, say, people who live in Detroit, who perhaps could use more security.
Being nervous after the violence in Tucson makes sense, but there’s a real risk of reactionary security excesses in response to the tragedy. Here’s hoping cooler heads will prevail.