"This isn't any way to start a year," said House of Representatives Chaplain Fr. Daniel Coughlin.

And for the close-knit Capitol Hill community, things are right back where they started nearly 365 days ago.

Coughlin offered his stark assessment around this time last January. It was a memorial service for 46-year-old Paula Nowakowski, chief of staff to then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). A beloved Capitol Hill figure, Nowakowski died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

And with the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and the murder of federal Judge John Roll and Giffords' aide Gabe Zimmerman, 2011 begins with a pall even more grim than 2010.

Giffords was the target of violence last year. Protesters directed physical threats at her and vandalized her office in the run-up to the health care reform bill.

"Look, we can't stand for this," said Giffords last March during an interview with MSNBC after a vandal smashed a window at her Tucson office. "Our office corner has really become an area where the Tea Party movement congregates and the rhetoric is really heated. Not just the calls but the e-mails. The slurs."

At a Saturday press conference, Pima County, AZ Sheriff Clarence Dupnik chastised those who lob invective at the country's political leaders. Dupnik held particular contempt for those in his home state of Arizona.

"The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," Dupnik said. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

If Dupnik is right, the Arizona massacre is the culmination of a combustible, venomous brew that's gurgled around Congress for more than a year and a half. It started to smolder with the incendiary town hall meetings in August, 2009. It percolated as Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) castigated President Obama with his "you lie" jeer during a Joint Session of Congress.

The vituperation drew to a boil last March just before Congress finally approved the health care reform bill. Some protesters targeted lawmakers and threatened to kill them. Former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and current Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) received death threats laced with rhetorical Napalm.

"There are millions of people across the country who wish you ill," one man warned Stupak.

Then someone dropped off a coffin in the yard of Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO). On Capitol Hill, anti-health care reform demonstrators fired racial slurs at Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Andre Carson (D-IN). Police briefly detained a man after he appeared to spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) as the Congressman walked into the Cannon House Office Building.

Lewis is a civil rights figure who's seen this before. Doctors inserted a steel plate into Lewis's skull after the Alabama State Police beat him on Bloody Sunday in 1965 at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

"I haven't heard anything like this in 40, 45 years. Since the march to Selma, really," Lewis said last year. "People being downright mean."

The unruly targeted Republicans, too. Last year, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), the highest-ranking Jewish official in U.S. history, announced that he "has been directly threatened" and had "received threatening emails."

After the contretemps of the August, 2009 town halls and Joe Wilson's outburst, then-House Speaker Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) struggled to fight back tears. She said she "saw this myself in the late ‘70s in San Francisco."

Pelosi was referring to the assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk. Milk was the first openly-gay figure to win election to a major political office in the U.S.

In March, 2009, Pelosi fretted about those who may be agitated into a furor over the health care law.

"Words have power. They weigh a ton," Pelosi said. "And they are perceived differently by people depending on their, shall we say, emotional state."

There's a dark truth to all of this. Since the frenzy of the 2009 town meetings, lawmakers and aides across Capitol Hill have long whispered that this day would come.

"It's just a matter of time until someone brings a gun to one of these things and shoots a Congressman," said one House aide prophetically. Another aide said she feared going into the district with her boss because "you never know who is going to show up."

In fact, few Democrats held any town hall forums at all before the election, opting instead to conduct tele-town halls.

Top Congressional leaders like the Speaker of the House along with majority and minority leaders plus the whips receive formal security details from the U.S. Capitol Police. Rank-and-file lawmakers do not. But now Andre Carson says he's consulted with the Department of Homeland Security and is bolstering his security. A Carson aide wouldn't allude to the measures taken by the Congressman.

"Part of this is making sure we can do what we need to do to protect the Congressman and staff," said Carson spokesman Justin Ohlemiller. "And part of this is protecting constituents who interact with the Congressman as well."

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is calling on Congress to beef up its individual security for all members.

Saturday night, House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood told lawmakers and staff to "be continuously aware of their surroundings and to immediately report circumstances that appear suspicious to your local law enforcement agency"

Livingood added also asked lawmakers contact the Capitol Police if they are worried about their safety when appearing at a public forum. On Sunday, representatives from Livingood's office and the U.S. Capitol Police will conduct a conference call with the entire House membership and their spouses to discuss precautions.

With Republicans now in the majority, they planned to devote the first days of the 112th Congress to repealing the controversial health care reform law. The final vote was slated for Wednesday. But now Majority Leader Eric Cantor is yanking that legislation off the floor "so that we can take whatever actions may be necessary in light of today's tragedy."

It's unclear if leaders are concerned that the vitriol generated over the health care bill last year amid Giffords' shooting could be too volatile at this point.

Since last year's health care conflagration, multiple House members have confided that they worry they could be attacked as they walk across Independence Avenue to the Capitol when the House calls votes. At least one Congressional leader with a security detail said last week that they didn't think protection was necessary back home. It's unknown if that lawmaker will change their tune now.

Moreover, there is a balancing act between security and keeping lawmakers in touch with their constituents. The institution is often called "The People's House." Meeting with the public is the essence of a lawmaker's duties. The rise of social media has bolstered the ability of representatives to stay dialed in with constituents. But there's a downside to this as well. An attentive public can potentially track every movement a lawmaker makes. And that frightens some lawmakers.

By the same token, there's concern that a security phalanx could push the public back too far from their elected representatives. After 9-11 and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Capitol Hill moprhed into a citadel after 9-11 and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It's not very inviting for those whom lawmakers represent.

So there are questions as to how the Arizona crisis could alter the fundamental reationship between lawmakers and the people.

Shortly after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, someone asked Benjamin Franklin what the founders hammered out behind closed doors. Had they settled on a republic or a monarchy?

"A republic," Franklin replied with little hesitation. "If you can keep it."

After Saturday, we'll see.