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Public access

Following last weekend’s deadly shooting in Tucson, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she doubted the 535 members of Congress would become more reclusive and less accessible to their constituents.

As good as her word, Rep. Berkley proceeded with her own scheduled “Congress on the Corner” event on Friday at her Las Vegas office.

To cancel the event, “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, said both Rep. Berkley and Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

Erecting more barriers between Congress and its constituents “is not going to happen,” Rep. 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.”

Rep. Heller 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.”

That’s the correct recipe — refusing to let the occasional lunatic drive us underground, yet without being foolhardy.

Lone lunatics have been known to track down TV actresses at home, to shoot a rock ‘n’ roll legend on a public sidewalk in New York, a city with arguably the nation’s most restrictive gun laws.

In a free country, no one can be promised complete safety.

In special circumstances, more security may be in order. But turning America’s elected leaders into a high priesthood, shut off from contact with everyday citizens behind concertina wire and metal detectors, would be dangerous to the idea of citizen government — without, in the end, being likely to do much good.

It is refreshing to see Rep. Berkley stand up for constituent access when it would be easy to take the opposite approach.

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