Tsongas: Shooting Puts Democracy At Risk

By Jess Bidgood

Jan. 10, 2011

Congress and staffers gathered on the steps of the House of Representatives for a moment of silence honoring the victims of the Saturday shooting in Tuscon that killed six people and injured fourteen, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (Getty)

BOSTON — When Rep. Niki Tsongas got the news that her House colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, had been shot while meeting with constituents outside of a Safeway in Tuscon, she was stunned. Especially because she was holding a similar event of her own at the time in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

That morning, both Tsongas and Giffords were leading "Congress on Your Corner" events, informal public meetings that give constituents a chance to speak directly with their representatives. In Tuscon, suspect Jared Lee Loughner allegedly opened fire on Giffords' event, killing six people and injuring fourteen.

"I was just beginning (the event) and I heard the news and I was so utterly shocked," Tsongas said during Monday's Emily Rooney Show.

The shooting has forced her to consider how she balances access with security, as it has for lawmakers across the country.

"I think we've got to be careful and not pretend there isn't some elevated risk," Tsongas said, "But on the other hand we all know we're committed to being as open and accessible as possible."

Rep. Mike Capuano says he doesn't want extra security measures to come between he and his constituents. "I don't tend to think about my safety very often at all," Capuano said.

Tsongas said she wants to think about how to keep aides and constituents safe, too. "I think anyone who's in elected office sort of always knows there's some risk, but the reality here is that staff members were put in harm's way and actually lost their lives, constituents who want to take advantage of the opportunities to meet with their representatives were killed."

And when constituents can't feel safe meeting with the political representation, Tsongas said, you've got a problem.

"It puts at risk the way democracy functions and we've got to think that through," Tsongas said.

Rep. Giffords remains in critical condition after her surgery following Saturday's shooting.


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