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Should Congressional Staff be armed?

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Opinion Zone,Ben Domenech

In the wake of the terrible assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murder and assaults on so many of her constituents, some members of Congress are talking openly about their concerns for their safety and security. While this incident seems to clearly be the work of an insane individual without rational motivation (other than an obsession with Giffords which dates back several years), concerns about the safety of members of Congress for any future attacks will remain a topic of significant discussion in the weeks and months to come.

As anyone will tell you who has worked on Capitol Hill, members of the House and Senate only receive a security detail if they become members of leadership. Thus, for most members, their protection is their own responsibility. Oftentimes, particularly for newly elected politicians, it's only after receiving threats that members engage in due diligence or choose to carry a firearm for self-defense. They count on local law enforcement for their only security, and most officers are already too overburdened with their daily tasks to help protect roving politicians.

One topic that I'd suggest some members consider in the days ahead relates the status of Congressional staffers -- specifically, encouraging those staffers who regularly advance events or act as support staff to engage in firearm training and apply for concealed carry permits.

Rep. Giffords herself has always been a pro-Second Amendment member of Congress. But even if she had been carrying a firearm herself, as a practical matter, it's difficult for any politician to be mindful of personal threats as they focus on talking with constituents. Those members of Congress who are planning to carry themselves would be, in all likelihood, far better off encouraging their drivers and advance staff to go through a proper round of training for personal defense.

In this case, a trained, armed staffer could've made a difference. As it happens, one of the men who helped subdue Jared Loughner, Joe Zamudio, told reporters he ran toward the sound of the gunfire in part because he was carrying a firearm himself. As the internet allows candidate schedules to be more well known and for security risks to proliferate, we shouldn't have to count on someone like Zamudio or others being on hand to help subdue a disturbed and homicidal attacker.

Again, all I'm recommending is a greater focus on preparation. Not every office will feel the need to do this, and some may find local laws restrictive. But if we aren't about to supply every member of Congress with a security detail, the least we ought to do is encourage their personal staff to prepare for these situations, to be trained and ready, even as we all hope they never have to use that training in defense of citizens or an elected official.

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