While I agree with my Opinion Zone colleague, Andrew Ian Dodge, that Rep. Peter King's proposed gun-control legislation, which would prevent ordinary citizens from carrying guns within 1,000 ft. of members of Congress, is one of the more ludicrous ideas put forth by a congressman in the early days of 2011, I find Andrew's alternative prescription similarly difficult to swallow.
What a brave Representative should propose is that all those Senators and Representatives who wish should be given concealed carry training so they can be armed. Federal judges could participate in the program as well. What better way to help the hard-pressed security officials than to have all members trained and armed to aide in their own defense? This would allow members to appreciate the training that those seeking to protect themselves undergo to become licensed to carry. Having Congress and Senators armed would be a good way of keeping security costs down and give them a new appreciation of the 2nd amendment. They could understand the joys of releasing your inner angst by filling paper cutouts with holes as they practice their aim. Those who did not chose to partake would be informed of the risks which they were taking.
Now obviously preventing citizens from carrying guns within 1,000 ft. of a member of Congress is not only a blatant violation of the constitutional right to bear arms, but it is also quite obviously impossible to enforce. At that distance, anyone eating in a cafeteria across the street from Rep. King or one of his colleagues who happened to be carrying a gun would be a de facto criminal. Police would hard-pressed to round up all these incidental felons.
But is Andrew's counter-proposal any more sensible?
First, we must ask ourselves a question: Do we want to see members of Congress engaged in gunfights with potential assassins? The first answer may be that it is better than leaving them at the mercy of their would-be killers. But I disagree.
In the case of Rep. Giffords the shooter, Jared Loughner, attacked much too quickly for Giffords to respond.
Furthermore, elected officials would not be able to provide their own security even if they were trained in the use of firearms. Proper security requires constant vigilance. A security detail will be continually scanning the crowd for danger. They will be profiling everyone that approaches, looking out for suspicious behavior and signs of danger. Representatives can't be expected to do this while meeting with constituents, donors, and members of the press. There is no possible way that they could at once perform all the other functions required of them while at the same time constantly on the lookout for danger.
Private security or a police presence is a much more sensible way to stay on the lookout for potential shooters - even if it does cost a bit more than training members of Congress to do it themselves (and I would question the theoretical savings in any case).
Second, we should consider the possible unintended consequences of armed members of Congress, trained to shoot back at potential assassins. What if they accidentally shot an innocent citizen? What if they were misidentified as the shooter themselves and targeted by law enforcement or other vigilantes? The moment of an attack like the one in Tucson is not anything remotely like target practice at a shooting range. It was a scene of chaos. Can we expect elected officials who may serve no more than two years in Washington to be as cool-headed in a crisis as seasoned security and law enforcement officials with perhaps decades of experience under their belts?
I don't think so. In fact, I think that arming and expecting our congresspeople to fire back at perceived threats opens the door to all sorts of potential problems, from increased fatalities to lawsuits to even greater tragedy and confusion.
Certainly this shooting should lead to better security at these public rallies. This is unfortunate - Giffords was engaged in the very sort of down-to-earth democracy every member of Congress should engage in, and one would hope such events could be safe even without a security presence. But, alas, we can never know what sort of grudge-holding crazy person might show up with a bone to pick and a gun in their pocket. A security presence at the Giffords rally may have made a difference, and it may not have. Would two policemen in the near vicinity have deterred Loughner's attack? Nobody can say.
But one thing is quite certain. If Giffords had had a gun on her person and had she been trained how to use it, she still would have been shot - out of the blue, before she even had a chance to draw her weapon. The 19 other victims of the attack would have been shot as well. It wouldn't have made even the slightest difference.