Giffords Shooting Leads Two Lawmakers to Carry Guns

The Arizona shooting raises new questions about whether lawmakers should carry guns for self defense.

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BY James Gordon Meek

WASHINGTON - Two lawmakers said Sunday they'll pack heat back home after the deadly attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The decision by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) raises new questions about whether lawmakers should carry guns for self defense - or need to. [Photo Gallery: Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona.]

"After the elections, I let my guard down," Shuler, an ex-NFL player, told Politico. "Now I know I need to have [my gun] on me."

Shuler and Chaffetz won't be the first lawmakers to be strapped.

The U.S. Marshals Service can deputize a member of Congress as a special deputy marshal if a threat assessment shows they are in danger, a federal law enforcement official said.

Carrying a special deputy badge allows the bearer to carry a concealed handgun anywhere, including inside a federal building like the U.S. Capitol.

Those who are so deputized aren't publicized, but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said he was granted deputy status after receiving death threats in the 1990s. [Take the poll: Is Political Rhetoric To Blame for Arizona Shooting?]

Most members prefer to accept protection from plainclothes U.S. Capitol Police - a perk of power typically reserved only for top congressional leaders.

During last year's health care debate, the Capitol Police temporarily assigned bodyguards to several lawmakers after they were threatened.

Plans for a massive underground security screening center were already underway when crazed gunman Russell Weston shot his way into the Capitol on July 24, 1998, killing Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, who was House Leader Tom DeLay's bodyguard. Gibson heroically stopped the insane killer by wounding him. [Read more stories about gun control and gun rights.]

The Capitol Visitors Center turned into a nearly $1 billion subterranean catacomb after the 9/11 attacks targeted the Capitol.

Yet lawmakers still walk out in the open between the Capitol and House and Senate office buildings.