Building Ivory Fortresses

JAN. 12, 2011

By the now, the important details are well known: on Saturday, Jan. 8, Jared Lee Loughner, for reasons only he knows, allegedly walked up to Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a public gathering in front of a Tucson Safeway, shot her in the head, then began firing indiscriminately into the crowd of constituents and aides, killing six – including a nine-year-old girl – and wounding 13 more.

The question is not whether such a horrific massacre could happen here in California at one of the myriad local and public events often held by legislators, supervisors and council members – of course it could – but to what extent one or more of these officials will succumb to the terror and take legal steps to further insulate themselves from the people they were elected represent. The answer, at least in California, is not very much.

At least for the moment, state officials seem to be resisting the temptation to “beef up security” or mouth any of the other cliches that exemplify our national security state.

Tony Beard, Jr., the Senate’s Chief Sergeant-at-Arms, said they weren’t planning an changes at this time. “Nothing is particularly planned at this point,” said Beard. “When you have any security event as this, we’ll take a look at it, do a more detailed evaluation.”

In the Assembly, Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Ronald Pane agreed. “You kind of regroup,” he said. “But we’re pretty secure around here. We handle out of town meetings and coffees like we normally do. I think we’re a little different than other states – we tend to be ahead of the curve on some of these things.”

As for threats, Pane said his office receives them “on a regular basis. God bless the Internet.”

More importantly, the legislators themselves seem to be behaving more or less as they always do. Erin Shaw, spokesperson for Senator Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said that while her office has been fielding calls from the local press asking if they were going to be doing anything different, nothing would change.

“Our office was horrified and deeply saddened to learn of Saturday’s tragic events, and our hearts go out to the victims, survivors, and all of their loved ones,” said Shaw. “What makes the violence in Tucson unspeakable is that Congresswoman Giffords was attacked doing the job she loved and serving the people she swore to represent. Our office does have safety protocols in place, and the Senator reached out to his district staff recently to remind them that safety is always the first priority. Our office has historically worked closely with the Sergeant-at-Arms to ensure we have followed any and all safety protocols, and we will continue to do so. Though he understands the concern for increased safety protocols, and will certainly be open to any recommendations the Sergeant-at-Arms may issue, the Senator believes that being accessible to his constituents is a critical part of his job. We can’t operate in an ivory tower.”

Officials elsewhere – especially terror-sensitive New York – are another story.

“It is imperative that we do all that we can to give law enforcement the tools they need to ensure the safety of New Yorkers and prevent an attack before it happens,” said Congressman Peter King, R-New York, in this Jan. 11 press release from the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “That is why, as Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and Co-Chair of the Congressional Task Force on Illegal Guns, I will be introducing legislation that would make it illegal to knowingly carry a gun within a 1,000 feet of certain high-profile government officials.”

While it’s not clear how King would define “high profile government official,” or how King would react, say, if someone shot an official from a distance of 2,000 feet while using a high-powered rifle, the bill represents yet another step in transforming the ivory tower that many of our elected representatives already inhabit into a fortress. In one stroke, King’s bill would put even more quotation marks around the words “public servants,” revealing them as nothing more than a protected class of special elites, flanked by guards and laws against attack from the very people who put them into office.

-Anthony Pignataro

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