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Capitol Hill ups security post-Ariz. shooting

January 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
In the wake of the shooting massacre in Arizona, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering adopting tougher security measures for members of Congress in their home districts.What's been made obvious after Saturday's shooting is that lawmakers go unprotected when they're in their home districts.

Some in Congress say that's how they like it because it keeps them more accessible to voters.

However, at least two congressmen say they're now going to be carrying guns.

Inside the fortress-like Capitol on Tuesday, congressional staffers signed a book of condolences for victims who might just as easily have been them.

But once they're off Capitol Hill, members of Congress usually have no protection at all and sometimes it gets dicey.

"It's pretty routine to get some very vitriolic, very angry, very aggressive people communicating with you," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Since the shooting rampage in Tucson highlighted how dangerous those interactions can be, Chaffetz who has long had a permit to carry a gun says he'll now be carrying his gun more often.

"I wouldn't want to see someone rush out and start carrying if they haven't in the past. I will probably do it pretty regularly," Chaffetz said.

That could pose new worries for Capitol Hill police.

"I've been a policeman for 42 years and I don't think introducing more guns to the situation is helpful," said Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrence Gainer.

In the Senate alone, police made 49 arrests 2010. The latest came just two days before the Arizona shooting.

A man threatened to shoot Democratic Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett's staff and set fire to his office.

That man is now in jail.

But as congressional leaders consider heightened security when members are at home including the use of bodyguards and metal detectors, most members don't seem to want it.

"We can't let it interfere with how we do our jobs. To be a representative means being out there in the public, close to constituents," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

Besides, security officials say, no one would have seen something like this coming.

"I probably wouldn't have done anything but talked to the local police and have them stop by and take a look," said Gainer.

Wednesday, Federal law enforcement authorities will be the inspecting security practices within Congress.

One change that is expected is more coordination between Capitol Hill police and local police when members are at home.