Two of Nevada’s congressional representatives differed on whether political rhetoric played a part in the mass shooting Saturday in Tucson, which killed six people and injured 14 others, including an Arizona congresswoman.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., thought it did, while Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., wasn’t jumping to conclusions.
“For something like this to happen — I think it’s an indication,” said Berkley, D-Nev.
“I’m glad that this senseless shooting has had the impact that it has had on our country. I hope this is a turning point and not a footnote in our nation’s history,” she said.
Heller warned against overreacting to what so far appears to have been the actions of a lone, disturbed attacker.
“I would hope before we make any decisions that we let this investigation run its course and see if this was a solo event with a single deranged gunman,” he said.
Both, though, doubted that the 535 members of Congress will see substantially increased security, citing logistical challenges and the probability that extra measures would interfere too much with citizen access to their elected leaders.
Berkley said she would have a “Congress on the Corner” event from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday at her Las Vegas office at 2340 Paseo del Prado, Suite D-106.
That was the name of the event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in Tucson on Saturday when she was shot by a man with a handgun. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has been arrested and charged as the gunman.
Berkley said politicians and the public need to demand better behavior in the public sphere to curb potential violence.
“You know — the ‘lock and load’ nonsense, the ‘Second Amendment remedies’ remark, and having things on your website with bulls-eyes on various congressional districts,” she said. “It’s the wrong signal to send.
“It is time that we damp down the rhetoric. It starts in the campaigns, where there’s trash thrown up on TV in the form of a political commercial. There’s no longer any truth to anything. It’s just, say whatever you want to say to louse up the other candidate — and people are accepting this.”
She, like many Democrats, was referring to comments by Sarah Palin and former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle.
Palin, the former Alaskan governor, famously made remarks such as “never retreat, instead reload!” She posted a map on her SarahPAC Facebook page with cross hairs on 20 congressional districts wanted by the GOP, including Giffords’. The map’s headline states, “It’s time to take a stand.”
Angle proposed unspecified “Second Amendment remedies” should the public deem Congress to be not responsive enough. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens’ right to keep and bear arms.
She did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.
For Heller, it is cable channels Fox and MSNBC that play a role by seeking provocative commentators from the right and left and amplifying their views.
“The media contributes to some degree in the level of disdain people may have for their elected officials, because what they say on TV and in types of personalities they put on that are very bombastic in many cases,” he said.
Berkley, who rarely uses security, had several police officers at Monday’s press conference. She said Sheriff Doug Gillespie offered the assistance and she accepted because it was a previously scheduled event.
Most of the time the Police Department decides whether to deploy officers for an elected official’s event. The only time police charge for security is when it’s requested for special events, said Sgt. Bill Cassell, and such a request has not been made by Berkley’s office.
Berkley said there will also be security at Friday’s event so that people feel safe attending.
She said Friday’s gathering would be “the best tribute I could make to my friend Gabby.”
“To do less than that, to hide behind these office walls, would be a mistake of monumental proportions,” she said. “I’m just not going to let any wing nut prevent me from doing my job.”
Doing that job requires public accessibility, both representatives said, predicting that members of Congress will not want more barriers between them and their constituents.
“It’s not going to happen,” Berkley said. “There are 435 members of Congress and a hundred members of the Senate. What are you going to do to protect us? And if there’s a lunatic out there, he’s going to find a way to circumvent that security.
“We’ve got to change the way we do business in this country and not start living behind barbed wire and closed offices.”
Heller, entering his fifth year in Congress, said he has never felt threatened in a political venue. The tenor of town hall meetings has become more charged recently, he noted, attributing that to Nevada’s bad economy instead of rhetoric from politicians or fringe elements.
He said he would oppose legislation put forward by Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., to give members of Congress legal protections against threatening language.
“I assure you Congress will overreact, and this is an example of that,” he said.
“We are representatives. That is what we do. You cannot represent without access and any effort to limit access to your representative is contrary to the term itself.”
Contact reporter Alan Choate at email@example.com or 702-229-6435. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.