Poll: 60% call for police at townhalls

A vast majority of voters want lawmakers to continue meeting constituents following the shooting of a congresswoman this month, but also want police protection at those events, according to a new poll commissioned by The Hill. 

An overwhelming 91 percent of voters said it’s “very important” or “somewhat important” that members of Congress continue hosting public forums in the wake of the Jan. 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others in Tucson, Ariz., the poll found. But 60 percent said police should be present for those gatherings.

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Giffords was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event at a district grocery store when a 22-year-old gunman allegedly shot her in the head. Six bystanders were killed in the rampage, and 13 were injured, including Giffords. The Arizona Democrat, who was elected to her third term in November, remains hospitalized in serious condition.

The poll findings are an indication that, while the tragedy has done little to whet Congress’s appetite for tighter gun controls, it has made the public hungry for more security at such events. Just 28 percent of respondents said police should not appear at lawmakers’ constituent events — less than half the number supporting the enhanced security.

Men and women favor the mandatory police protection in roughly equal numbers: Fifty-nine percent of male respondents and 61 percent of females said their presence should be required. But many more men (35 percent) than women (22 percent) said they actively oppose the additional security. 

The race of respondents also seemed to play a factor, with 75 percent of blacks supporting the police presence versus 58 percent among white voters. White respondents were also twice as likely to oppose the new security (30 percent) as blacks (16 percent).

Party affiliation played little role, the pollsters found, with 62 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats favoring the police presence. 

There’s already some evidence that lawmakers are aware of the public’s newfound concern. 

Over the weekend, for instance, a number of lawmakers hosted meet-and-greet-style constituent events in their districts — a demonstration, the members said, that the Arizona shooting would do nothing to deter them from their duties. 

“No lone gunman — nobody — can stop the democratic process and stop us from doing our job of interacting with our constituents,” Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), who hosted a Friday meet-and-greet at her Las Vegas office, said last week during a tribute to the Arizona victims.

At Berkley’s request, however, a local sheriff chaperoned the event — a precaution the Nevada Democrat hadn’t taken during similar constituent gatherings in the past, according to spokesman David Cherry.

Cherry said the heightened security was designed “to send the message [to constituents] that there’s nothing to worry about.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) cooperated with local police in hosting a similar constituent event last Friday. The meeting was monitored by “four or five clusters of Minneapolis police officers,” according to a local report.

There’s indication that most voters are also resolved not to let the Arizona tragedy discourage their meeting with lawmakers. Indeed, roughly half of respondents (51 percent) said the shooting makes them more likely to attend a constituent event, according to the new Hill poll, while 28 percent said the rampage makes them less likely to do so. The remaining 12 percent said they’re not sure.

The Arizona shooting has prompted a handful of lawmakers to call for additional federal protections for elected officials. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), for instance, has urged an increase in congressional office budgets to bolster security. Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) has floated legislation creating a gun-free safe-zone within 1,000 feet of lawmakers. And Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) wants a Plexiglas shield erected around the House gallery.

By a two-to-one ratio, however, voters oppose Burton’s shield proposal, according to The Hill’s poll. Just 27 percent of respondents said they favor such a plan, while 55 percent indicated their opposition.

The figures are based on a national survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted Jan. 13 by Pulse Opinion Research, an independent polling firm that borrows the automated procedures of Rasmussen Reports.

The findings arrive as other national polls reveal that the Arizona tragedy hasn’t shifted the public’s opinion on federal gun-control laws. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Monday found that 14 percent of voters oppose any gun restrictions; 14 percent oppose gun ownership except for authorized officials like the police; and 71 percent support some restrictions — the same numbers reported by the same pollsters 18 months ago.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are pushing back against any new gun reforms following the Giffords shooting. 

“Politicians and a complicit media have conditioned many citizens to view government as our protector, leading to more demands for government action whenever tragedies occur,” Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) wrote Monday in a Hill op-ed. “But this impulse is at odds with the best American traditions of self-reliance and individualism, and it also leads to bad laws and the loss of liberty.”

The government, Paul added, “cannot make us safe by mandating security any more than it can make us prosperous by decreeing an end to poverty.”


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