Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting and the murder of federal judge John Roll and five others will no doubt further restrict access to elected officials. Lawmakers are generally safe when they are at Washington D.C. But most members do not have security outside of the capitol. The exception is if a large number of politicians will be in one area or if a member has received reliable specific threats. Gabrielle Giffords had received threats in the past but she did not have a security detail. The last politician to be killed was Congressman Leo Ryan in 1978 in Guyana by members of the People’s Temple. The last federal judge assassinated was John H. Wood, Jr. in 1979 by Charles Harrelson, estranged father of actor Woody Harrelson.
Protection for politicians has only been in place for the last 116 years. The Secret Service was founded in 1865 to deal with counterfeit currency. The first president to get protection was William McKinley in 1894, and even that was on a part-time, informal basis. Congress did not authorize permanent president protection until 1913. Vice-President and President-elect protection was authorized in 1951. Protection for all Presidential candidates was authorized in 1968. The President was able to walk down the street any day of the week and not need security.
In 1983, protection at the capitol started to increase. According to Howard Fineman of the Huffington Post, “A bomb explosion outside the Senate chamber engendered the installation of magnatometers; in 1998 a gunman shot two Capitol Police in an attack in the House. The result was a system of careful monitoring of all visitors and the extension of police protection to all members of the leadership. The 9/11 attacks led to the erection of barricades and new defense perimeters around the grounds; new inspection procedures were initiated after an anthrax attack in 2003 on the offices of then-Democratic leader Tom Dachle’s office.”
After the latest attack against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Judge John Roll, security measures are sure to be increased and access to our elected officials will decrease.