Will Shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Lead to Increased Protection for Public Officials?

As U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D, Az) continues to fight for her life in a Tucson hospital and the families of Chief United States District Court Judge John Roll, Gifford’s staffer Gabriel Zimmerman and others make funeral arrangements, some officials have begun to question if the constituent meetings such as the one held Saturday are a good idea.

Members of Congress reported 42 cases of threats or violence in the first 3 months of 2010, nearly three times the 15 cases reported during the same period a year earlier. Nearly all dealt with the health care bill, and Giffords was among the targets. Members of Congress interviewed about the attack on Giffords have said that while they are concerned about their personal security and the security of their family members and staffers, they do not plan the change how they interact with constituents.

“To the members of the House and their staffs, I ask that you on this Sabbath day that we keep Gabby and her staff in our thoughts and prayers,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner. “Public service is a high honor, but these tragic events remind us that all of us in our roles in service to our fellow citizens comes with a risk. This inhuman act should not and will not deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and to fulfill our oaths of office. No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duty.”

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D, OH) often drives herself to constituent events in the Toledo, Ohio area she serves. When asked if she would employ security, Kaptur gave an emphatic “Never,” adding, "If we learn how to behave ourselves as a republic, we shouldn't need it.”

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who was dispatched to the scene by President Barack Obama, commented, “This was an attack not only against dedicated public servants, but against our fellow citizens…one being a child who was there to learn more about how our government works…and other members of the community who were meeting with their elected officials for the first time, or who were simply running errands on what otherwise would have been an ordinary weekend,” said. “This was an attack on our institutions and our way of life.”

Mueller said the FBI is working closely with the Pima County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, the U.S. Capitol Police and others in this ongoing investigation. Capitol police have asked members of Congress to be more vigilant about security in the wake of the shooting.

“Given this tragedy, all logical precautions are in place to best ensure the safety of other public officials, but there is no information at this time to suggest any specific threat remains,” Mueller added. “For those on the ground and for all of us, the work goes on, and we will continue to dedicate all necessary resources at every level to this investigation—to do everything we can to ensure that our elected officials and the citizens we serve are safe.”

Federal Charges Filed Against Arizona Shooter, State Charges Expected

The United States Attorney for the District of Arizona, Dennis K. Burke, announced that his office filed a federal complaint against Jared Lee Loughner. The complaint was signed by Magistrate Judge Michelle Burns in Phoenix.

Loughner is suspected of shooting U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Chief Judge John Roll, Giffords' staff member Gabriel Zimmerman, and approximately 16 others Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.

The federal complaint alleges five counts against Loughner for crimes committed against federal employees:

Count 1 – On or about Jan. 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, Jared Lee Loughner, did attempt to kill Gabrielle Giffords, a Member of Congress; in violation of Title 18, United States Code Section 351(c).

Count 2 – On or about Jan. 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, Jared Lee Loughner, did unlawfully kill Gabriel Zimmerman, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties and who was assisting Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords while she was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1111.

Count 3 – On or about Jan. 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, Jared Lee Loughner, did unlawfully kill John M. Roll, a U. S. District Court Judge for the District of Arizona, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1111.

Count 4 – On or about Jan. 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, Jared Lee Loughner, did, with intent to kill, attempt to kill Pamela Simon, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties and who was assisting Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords while she was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1113.

Count 5 – On or about Jan. 8, 2011, at or near Tucson, in the District of Arizona, the defendant, Jared Lee Loughner, did, with intent to kill, attempt to kill Ron Barber, an employee of the United States who was engaged in performance of official duties and who was assisting Member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords while she was engaged in performance of official duties; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1113.

Loughner will make an initial appearance on the complaint at 2 p.m. Mountain Time on Monday, Jan. 10, in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson at the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix. He is entitled to a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing. The court will set a date for both hearings. Loughner remains in federal custody.

The Rules of Criminal Procedure require that a grand jury review the evidence and issue an indictment within 30 days of the defendant's initial appearance. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona is in the process of drafting an indictment against Loughner for presentation to the grand jury.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano commented, “I am deeply saddened by reports that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Chief Judge John Roll and others were attacked in Tucson, Arizona. There is no place in our society or discourse for such senseless and unconscionable acts of violence. Gabby is a steadfast representative for southern Arizona and both she and John are dedicated public servants.”

At this time, Loughner’s motivation for the shooting spree is unclear and he has refused to cooperate with authorities. While some political pundits have blamed negative political campaigning and a turbulent election season for setting off the shooting, mental health experts believe Loughner is suffering from a severe mental condition, such as paranoid schizophrenia, that has caused him to be mentally unbalanced.

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