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Gabrielle Giffords shooting: Are members of Congress safe back home?

Congress is a near-fortress, but the Gabrielle Giffords shooting raises questions about security for members of Congress in their home districts.

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The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona and three members of her staff during a public event in Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 8 is forcing House members, reluctantly, to consider stronger security measures in their home districts.

Bombings, gun assaults, 9/11, and an anthrax attack have already turned the US Capitol into a near-fortress, flanked by screening points, detectors, and an armed force of 1,800. But back at home, members and their staff work outside that security bubble, despite the occasional brick through a district office window or, more frequently, threatening phone calls.

That could change. The US Capitol Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation are urging members not only to report all credible threats but also to assign a staff member back in the district to be a link with local law enforcement. One result could be greater police presence at lawmakers’ public events.

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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that they don’t want to face voters behind a bulletproof window or flanked by a conspicuous show of security. It discourages voter contact, members say. Too many barriers between lawmakers and the people they represent could undermine the right of the people “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”

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