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After Tucson shooting, several congressmen vow to carry guns more often

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 5:22 PM

When he's traveling to meet constituents, bumping along the back roads of central Utah in his Ford F-150 truck, it's not unusual for Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) to have a handgun strapped to his hip.

A longtime gun owner, Chaffetz said that in light of the attempt last weekend on the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), he thinks it might be a good idea to bring his Glock 23 even more often when he heads out into the country.

"It's just that you never know when you might find yourself in a most unfortunate situation," he said Wednesday. "I'd hate to be in a situation where I don't have the tool to do what needs to be done, and I hope and pray I'm never in such a situation."

Chaffetz is among several lawmakers who have stated publicly that the Arizona incident persuaded them that they need to keep their guns at the ready more regularly, even when meeting with constituents. Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), a vice-chairman of the House sportsmen's caucus, told Politico that he would be carrying his gun more often in light of the incident.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the Associated Press that he would reapply for his permit to carry a concealed weapon, though he is not sure he will carry his gun to public events. Freshman Rep. Morgan Griffith (R) said in an interview that he was thinking of applying for a permit because his new job as a congressman requires him to be away from his southern Virginia home more often.

It is but one way in which lawmakers are responding to heightened security concerns in the wake of the shooting, which took the lives of six people and injured at least 13 others. Despite the rarity of such incidents, it was a reminder to those who hold public office that their positions could put them at risk of similar attacks.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer tried to quell some fears this week, and said on Tuesday that he would not recommend that lawmakers go out and buy a gun for personal safety.

"I've been a policeman for 42 years and I don't think introducing more guns to the situation is helpful," Gainer said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Chaffetz agreed that a gun is not appropriate for everyone, but called his own weapon a "good personal security tool."

In some communities, he acknowledged, a gun might intimidate constituents who want to attend a town hall meeting or drop by their lawmakers' office. But "it's a bit more common and regular in Utah than it is in Washington, D.C.," said Chaffetz, whose district includes large stretches of rural land where guns are part of the culture.

Of Utah's 2.8 million residents, about 135,000 have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, state officials said.

Chaffetz said he doesn't carry his weapon all the time, and doesn't have a hard and fast rule about when he grabs his holster in the morning. He might leave it at home when attending a formal meeting at a city council chambers or a school, where he is dressed in a suit and tie, he said. He would be more apt to bring it along when he's at a casual gathering, wearing jeans and a sport coat.

He said he never carries it in Washington, where it is against the law to carry a concealed weapon, but that he's likely to keep it handy more often back in his district.

"I might carry a little bit more regularly," he said. "I don't think you can live in fear, but I do feel more safe knowing that I have it."

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