Local lawmakers: Shootings won’t keep them away

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Jan. 8 in Tucson, Ariz., shocked many people around the world and caused other public officials to possibly be more cautious when they make public appearances.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, who served in the House in Washington with Giffords, said he won’t allow that incident to stop him from meeting constituents.

“Obviously, when I’m in the district, you always want events to be successful, which means that I want to have the utmost safety in place for when people come out to an event to meet with me,” he said. “When we plan events, we try to pick locations that are accessible to people so they feel comfortable in coming to.

“I’ve never felt vulnerable in any way when I’m out in the district and in the communities,” Thompson said.

He said he doesn’t anticipate many changes in how lawmakers structure events in regard to security.

“We’ve had one briefing already by the FBI and the Capitol Hill Police regarding what happened in Tucson at that gathering there,” Thompson said. “That investigation is ongoing, and I’m sure we’ll have future briefings.

“We’ll see if there’s some thing we can learn from this tragedy,” he said. “From all of the reports that I’ve seen in the media, the interviews that were done with the family members and the girlfriend of Jared Loughner (the alleged shooter), across the board, this is an individual who had a long history of disturbing behaviors.

“It would certainly be challenging to protect ourselves from the workings of the internal mind, and someone who chooses to follow his demons and make these kinds of decisions,” Thompson said. “At this point, I don’t anticipate any major changes when it comes to security.

“The most important thing for me in going forward, is that the people I work for, the citizens of Pennsylvania in the fifth district, feel comfortable when coming out to meet with me,” he said.

Thompson said he didn’t work that closely with Giffords in his first two years in Congress, but did meet her when he was in Arizona.

“My initial interaction with Gabby was a contact with her in southern Arizona, where my son, who’s in the Army, was stationed for training,” he said. “I went to speak at his graduation, and his representative in Congress was Gabby Giffords. I got to know her a little bit and came to really respect her support of the military.

Giffords was highly-regarded by her constituents in her district, which is a rural area outside Tucson, Thompson said.

“Gabby was doing what she loved to do, which is to be out interacting with her constituents, being with the people that she serves which is what we all do,” he said. “For me, that’s my favorite part of this job, being in Punxsutawney, Bradford and the rest of the district visiting with the people I work for.”

Meanwhile, Joe Scarnati — who serves as president pro tem in the state senate and recently completed a two-year tenure as lieutenant governor — doesn’t work on a stage as large as Congress, but it could be just as dangerous.

As lieutenant governor, Scarnati was accompanied by a state police officer at all times. But he noted that obviously, there’s a risk in any occupation one chooses.

“What would stop a gunman from coming into a school board meeting, a school or a church,” he said. “These are threats that span across all occupations, and we’re reminded when things like this happen, that we’re all open to that type of a threat.

“Maybe you think about it, and possibly do some things a little bit differently,” Scarnati remarked. “Certainly, throughout this period of time, it makes you keep your eyes a little more open and your ears a little more in tune as to what is going on around you.”

Scarnati said if anyone wanted to track him down and do him harm, he or she could.

“They’ll figure out that a lot of mornings, I leave my house, walk to the post office and walk back,” he said. “They’ll find out that on the weekend, I go up to my camp and cut the grass. So, it’s not just when we’re out in the district as a public official performing our official duties, it’s our private lives, too. Frankly, when you’re a public official, your private life gets put to the side a little bit.

“My concern is for my family and loved ones — that threat is very real against them, too,” Scarnati said.

Also, state Rep. Sam Smith, who is now serving as the speaker of the state House of Representatives, said he, too, realized a heightened awareness following Giffords’ shooting in Tucson.

“What happened in Tucson requires public officials to be more alert,” he said. “At the end of the day, I can’t see or support any major restrictions that would make us less accessible to the public. This issue has more to do with heightened observation, not tightening of security to make it more difficult for public officials to interact with the general public.”