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Lawmakers Rethink Security After Tucson Shootings

In the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, there's been much discussion of how and to what degree security should change for members of Congress, especially when they're back in their home districts.

At least two House members, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) have said they will carry handguns when they're back in their districts.

Relying on a concealed-carry permit is certainly one approach to personal security. But it's hard to see how a lawmaker meeting with constituents would be able to react quickly enough to stop an attack that uses the element of surprise, as appears to have been the case in the incident involving their colleague, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The Arizona Democrat is fighting for her life after being shot in her head.

Meanwhile, there are a number of proposals aimed at boosting security both on Capitol Hill and in their districts. Some will likely strike some observers as an overreaction.

For instance, Politico reports that Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, plans on reintroducing a proposal calling for Plexiglas barrier to be placed over the House chamber's visitors' gallery to keep those with ill intent from throwing explosives onto the House floor.

Politico also reports that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat, wants the House GOP, which recently took over management of the chamber, to not only rescind a 5 percent cut in congressional office budgets but to add 10 percent from the previous level to pay for added security.

As you might expect, there's talk of a broad security review. A Politico excerpt:

House Administration Committee Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) has proposed “an A to Z” review of the Capitol Police and its security processes.

“No one questions White House security, and I think we ought to have the same kind of vigilance in the House,” Lungren said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to get personal agents, but it does mean we’re going to look at what’s necessary and make arrangements.”

But some Republicans say it’s unclear whether additional funding and security projects would prevent another incident like the shooting of Giffords. And they add that most members should be using local police — not the Capitol Police or special guards — when they hold events in their home districts.

House Republicans and Democrats are scheduled to have a joint conference call with the House's sergeant-at-arms Wednesday to discuss additional steps lawmakers can take.

But they recognize there are practical limits to what can be done. As NPR's Audie Cornish reported for the network's newscast:

Democrat and Washington DC Delegate,  Eleanor Holmes Norton says there's no practical way for lawmakers to change what they do when it comes to dealing with constituents.

NORTON: The reason we are elected every two years is that the Framers meant us to get as close to the people as possible, for them to judge us. One way they will judge us is if they see us fleeing from them. Because they will think we are afraid of them.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.