As one might imagine, when such a horrific event hits so close to home, like the Giffords shooting has to those who work here on Capitol Hill, there are many questions intermingled with some serious fear.
Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer brought together scores of Senate staffers Wednesday afternoon, as he has done in the House, for a security briefing and to answer questions, as well as, to calm those fears. Gainer was joined by Capitol Police Chief Philip Morse and assistant FBI Director Shawn Henry who runs the Washington field office. Some 360 state offices joined via Internet, along with scores of Washington-based aides, and Gainer, a former Chief of Police in Washington and of the Capitol Police, said the two primary concerns were: how do you identify a threat, and how do you make events back home safer. Gainer's answer? Think about security beforehand, just as much as you would think about what to eat and what to say, and when in doubt, call the Capitol Police or local law enforcement and ask for help.
When asked what could have been done differently in the Giffords "Congress on your corner" event, Gainer simply ran through a hypothetical situation with a senator, avoiding "using that retrospective scope." Gainer said, "If we had been called a week ahead of time by one of our senators in a similar circumstance, and said, 'I'm going to have a meet and greet Saturday morning, maybe 20 or 30 people in front of a grocery story. What do you think?' The (Capitol Police) Chief and I would have talked, and we would have looked at: were there any threats against the member? (The Chief) would have asked the standard question: what's the issue, how many people do you expect? And then there would have been a determination of what we should do."
In this kind of situation, Gainer said, "I think the most the Chief and I probably would have done was say, 'Get ahold of the local police department.; And I mentioned in there - I've run local police depts. - if I got a call from the Chief in Washington, or from the Sergeant of Arms (sic), and he laid that hypothetical out: small event, noncontroversial, Saturday morning, no big speeches - I think I would have said, as a local police, 'I'll have a car come by. I'll try to be in the area. I'll make sure the cop, the car comes by and sees your senator and monitors it.'"
Some members are considering arming themselves with handguns, but Gainer discouraged that, saying, "I don't think it's the answer," and added, "I think the causes of violent crime and the causes of murder are very complex. And guns alone is not the answer. More cops alone is not the answer. More prisons alone is not the answer. And let's just take a look at those things: we have the most incarcerated people in the world. We have the most guns per citizen in the world. We have the highest homicide rate in the world. Those three things don't seem to jibe."
It was a statement with political undertones, but Gainer knew it, noting that he could say those kinds of things after his 42 years of law enforcement experience.
Also dipping his toe further into the political ring, something Gainer has done at times in the past in his long career, the Sergeant at Arms said more cops, more guns, more prisons alone are not the answer, but that there should be more of an investment in health care to help people like Jared Loughner, the assailant in Tucson.
"Someone said: ‘If we spend a couple billion dollars, can we get officers for each person?' I think if we had that type of money, there are a lot of other places we could put it. Health care is one of them," Gainer said. "And one of the questions posed to me - ‘Gee, if there were two officers down there, could they have prevented this?' And my only thought was, if there was a better health care system, he would have been in the health care system and never been in that parking lot."
At the start of Congress, with Washington obsessed with ever-rising debt and deficits, in what seems like a light year before the Giffords shooting, the House voted to ax their own office budgets by 5%. Now, some senators, like Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., wants to see that same cut in Senate budgets.
When asked about that possibility and if security would take a hit, Gainer merely said, "We've begun to prepare to manage towards that. And it's not good when there's cuts, but also, I recognize that there has to be belt-tightening all over. I really respect the process of trying to figure out where we can cut, what ought to be cut. I really hope security doesn't suffer."