Thursday, October 02, 2014


Features

Arizona Shooting Worries Politicians, Energizes Gun Opponents

By Heather Maher
  • The attempt on the life of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona has shocked and saddened Americans. - Minutes after she finished talking to locals who stopped by her question-and-answer table at a Tucson supermarket, part of a new Democratic initiative called "Congress On Your Corner," a gunman shot her in the head at point-blank range. She remains in critical condition. Six others, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, were killed. A 22-year-old man, Jared Lee Loughner, faces five criminal charges in the case.
  • The last sitting member of the U.S. Congress was assassinated more than 30 years ago. - It was November 18, 1978, and Representative Leo Ryan, a Democrat from California, was in the middle of a trip to Guyana. He and his staff were investigating reports that a U.S. cult called the People's Temple, originally from Ryan's congressional district in San Francisco, had relocated to the area and was holding people against their will. Ryan and his entourage were ambushed by People's Temple members at an airstrip near Jonestown. Ryan and four others were killed. Later, more than 900 People's Temple members committed mass suicide in an event known as the "Jonestown Massacre."
  • Prior to Ryan, the last member of Congress who was assassinated was Senator Robert Kennedy. - Kennedy was seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 1968. After winning a crucial victory in the California primary on June 6, 1968, he delivered an upbeat speech and was shot moments later by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian-American who said he was motivated by his anger over Kennedy's Middle East policy.
  • Another senator with presidential ambitions, Huey Long, was assassinated on September 8, 1935. - Long, who was the inspiration for Robert Penn Warren's classic book "All The King's Men," was shot in the hallway of the Louisiana capital building by the nephew of a bitter political opponent. He died two days later. James Hinds, who represented Arkansas shortly after the American Civil War, was shot and killed on October 22, 1868, by a member of the Ku Klux Klan by while traveling on horseback to a public event.
  • George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, was shot five times while campaigning for U.S. president on May 15, 1972. - Wallace survived the assassination attempt in Laurel, Maryland, but was paralyzed from the waist down. His would-be assassin was Arthur Bremer, who admitted to no political beef with Wallace, only that he wanted to become famous.
  • Presidential assassinations are far more well-known, particularly the death of President John F. Kennedy. - Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. His death struck Americans hard. People wept openly on the streets, schools were closed, and impromptu memorials were held in numerous cities. Kennedy's accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself shot and killed two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
  • President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head on April 14, 1865, while seeing a play at Ford's Theatre in Washington. - His killer, John Wilkes Booth, was an actor and Confederate sympathizer. Lincoln died early the next morning from his wounds. Booth escaped from the theater but was tracked down in Virginia and killed by Union soldiers on April 26.
  • U.S. President James Garfield was shot by a lone assassin in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1881. - Garfield's killer, Charles Guiteau, was angry over his failure to be appointed to a federal post. Garfield, a bullet still lodged somewhere in his torso, died on September 19 of complications related to the shooting.
  • U.S. President William McKinley was shot by a lone assassin in Buffalo, New York, on September 5, 1901. - McKinley's assassin was anarchist Leon Frank Czolgosz. McKinley, a bullet still lodged in his back, died on September 14 from complications surrounding his wounds.
  • Several U.S. presidents have survived attempts on their lives, most notably President Ronald Reagan in 1981. - Reagan survived despite a punctured lung. Reagan later described the incident, writing, "I was almost to the car when I heard what sounded like two or three firecrackers over to my left -- just a small fluttering sound, pop, pop, pop. I turned and said, 'What the hell's that?' Just then, Jerry Parr, the head of our Secret Service unit, grabbed me by the waist and literally hurled me into the back of the limousine."
  • In 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, attempted to kill President Harry Truman. - The two traded fire with Truman's security detail but failed to reach the president. Torresola was killed during the attack. Collazo was arrested and imprisoned for life, but his sentence was later reduced. He died in Puerto Rico in 1994.
  • In 1975, President Gerald Ford had guns drawn on him twice in one month. - On September 5, 1975, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (center left above) was subdued by a Secret Service agent after she pointed a pistol at Ford, who was visiting Sacramento, California. On September 22, 1975, Sara Jane Moore fired a single shot at Ford during a visit to San Francisco. The bullet missed Ford.


PHOTO GALLERY: Political assassinations in U.S. history

By Heather Maher

The attempted assassination of U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (Democrat, Arizona) and killing of six bystanders on January 8 has shocked Americans in the way that only violence against a political figure can.

In the aftermath, two groups doing some serious reflecting are elected officials, who in the wake of the public killing spree are questioning their own safety; and critics of America's permissive gun laws, who see the shooting as a tragedy that could have been prevented if guns weren't so easy to acquire and are calling anew for stricter controls on purchases.

Giffords' native Arizona, where she was gunned down while meeting with local voters, has some of the country's most permissive gun laws.

Federal law prohibits anyone younger than 21 from buying a handgun, but Arizona law allows 18-year-olds to do so. Guns are allowed almost everywhere, including inside government buildings, on school grounds, and in bars.

'Arizona Tradition'

Last year, in a move that the country's biggest gun-owner advocacy group called "a huge victory," Arizona Governor Jan Brewer repealed a state law that had required gun owners to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons.

The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence -- named for White House press secretary James Brady, who was shot in the head during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan -- has given Arizona one of its lowest ratings in the country.

Giffords is herself a gun owner and a defender of the state's laws who has called private ownership of guns "an Arizona tradition."

But Arizona's guns don't always stay in Arizona. A snap study by "The Washington Post" following the shootings found that in 2009, more than 1,600 guns purchased in Arizona were involved in out-of-state crimes.

The gun that 22-year-old Loughner reportedly used in his killing spree was a Glock 19 -- a semiautomatic handgun that is incredibly easy to fire several times quickly. Loughner purchased the gun legally in November after passing a background check.

Guns like Glocks were illegal a few years ago under an assault-weapons ban signed into law by former President Bill Clinton. In 2004, the law was due to expire and required a Congressional vote to extend it. The powerful gun-ownership lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), successfully defeated it.

At least one lawmaker has stepped forward to challenge pro-gun forces in the wake of the Arizona shootings.

Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat from New York, is a strong advocate of stricter gun laws who first ran for public office after her husband was one of six people killed in 1983 by a gunman on a New York City commuter train. She is preparing legislation that would ban the type of high-capacity weapon clip used by Loughner.

Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, has also called on Congress "to respond" to the tragedy by reinstating the assault-weapons ban.

Lawmakers are unlikely to do so, however. Hours after the news of the shooting broke, with official Washington in a state of uneasiness, members of Congress from both parties were defending existing gun laws as adequate and only in need of better enforcement.

Cozy With Constituents

The shooting has also raised questions about the public safety of elected officials.

In Washington, the U.S. Capitol and Congressional office buildings are fortress-like in their security, with metal detectors at every entrance and police a constant presence. But when lawmakers return to their home districts and states, they mingle openly in public at events, usually without protection.

When she was shot, Represntative Giffords was holding an event called "Congress on Your Corner," a common type of gathering where an elected official appears at a public venue and invites anyone to come and share what's on his or her mind.

It's the type of event that underscores how much citizens' access to elected officials is a cornerstone of American democracy. Voters expect to have regular opportunities to meet with their representatives, and for most elected officials, interacting with constituents is essential to winning reelection.

But the shooting has reminded legislators of the risks that come with appearing in public.

"I think it needs to be a wake-up call to members [of Congress] who have treated their own personal security in a cavalier manner," Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Democrat, Florida) who said on "Meet The Press" on January 9. "I know when I have town-hall meetings, which I have regularly, and increasingly even very open public meetings, there are always officers present."

According to the FBI, members of Congress have received some 236 death threats over the past 10 years.

The U.S. Capitol Police, which is charged with protecting members of Congress in Washington as well as in their home states, said it received dozens of calls over the weekend from worried legislators wondering how to protect themselves and their families.

On January 9, House Speaker John Boehner (Republican, Ohio) organized a rare conference call during which officials from the police and FBI briefed legislators, their spouses, and aides on when and how to report suspicious activities.

In Giffords' case, such advice wouldn't have helped. The man in the crowd with the gun came out of nowhere.

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