BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP) –Members of the House from Maryland are reacting to the tragedy that left Democratic Rep. Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford in critical condition after a gunman shot her in the head during an outdoor public gathering. Arizona’s chief federal judge and five others are dead.
Suzanne Collins has reactions from local Congressmen Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes, who knew the injured congresswoman well.
Even though we don’t know the motive, both say current times have made the political environment more volatile.
The events in Tucson caused Congressman Cummings to stop in his tracks to pray for Congresswoman Gifford and the other victims. He refuses to be intimidated by the violence.
“If I feel that kind of fear then it’s probably time for me to do something else,” Cummings said.
Cummings says hard times, foreclosures and layoffs have made people more frustrated, some acting out against elected officials. We don’t yet know if something like that or political views were the motive. But there have always been threats for Congress members.
“You know I come here in the evenings sometimes and there are all kinds of, like a package strapped to the door. And I think it has increased in these difficult times,” Cummings said.
Cummings sat next to Congresswoman Gifford, who he says always smiled. They shared a bond over their religious faith.
Congresswoman John Sarbanes is close with Gifford. They both began their careers in the House at the same time and learned the ropes together, becoming friends.
“She’s a wonderful member of Congress, and she’s a wonderful person– very thoughtful, dedicated,” Sarbanes said.
Both Maryland congressmen say it’s hard to say if there should be an increase in security for federal elected officials. Not only that, it would be costly and make it hard to connect with constituents.
“It gives you pause, but we are there to represent the public, and part of what we do is reach out and try to maintain communication,” Sarbanes said. “We live in a free and open society.”
“A lot of people come up to me and say ‘Where’s your security?’ I say ‘We don’t have security,’ Cummings said. “Today I drove here in my car; I don’t have a driver.”
Members of Congress do not get executive protection unless there’s been a threat that merits it.
Congressman Cummings says his office receives about two to three threats every month.