Senators and staff were instructed in a security briefing Wednesday that if confronted by a gunman and there’s no escape: attack. “If you are unable to escape, if you are unable to evade, and the shooters arethere, what do you do? You attack,” said Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer, referencing instructions from the Department of Homeland Security. “Don’t sit around and wait to be shot. Attack. Attack loudly. And hopefully some good will come out of it to someone.”
Gainer told senators and their staff, listening both on Capitol Hill and in their state offices, that this would be his most controversial-sounding advice of the day, but to remember it is what stopped the gunman Saturday from reloading his weapon, after he killed six people and injured 14 more, including the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Ariz.
Indeed, the rest of Gainer’s advice included encouraging staff to call in even the most subtle threats, keeping the police on speed dial and never working in the office alone, unless it’s locked.
“If the hair on the back of your neck goes up, then you ought to do something about it,” he said. “The bottom line on those threats is, if you think it’s a threat, you call. If it’s immediate, call 9-1-1.”
He also encouraged staff to notify them about events in their area – even minor events like the one Giffords held Saturday morning outside a local grocery store. Gainer said that Capitol security forces can reach out to the local law enforcement to make arrangements, including having local police stop by the event.
In the wake of the shooting, the debate over lawmaker and staff security had reached critical mass, with many on Capitol Hill suggesting alternative solutions for protection, such as full-time security for members or encouraging members to arm themselves. Gainer said he didn’t think either was a good idea, despite the uptick in threats toward lawmakers in the last year.
Gainer said he doesn’t think the “answer” is members carrying their own guns – much like Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler have said they’ll do in the coming weeks.
And as for giving members around-the-clock security, that’s too expensive, given the manpower involved in such an endeavor. Most lawmakers don’t want such security anyway, he said.
“To put the proper 24 [security officers] with everybody, with 535 members, it is a mere $2.1 billion dollars,” said Gainer. “We think there are other ways to bring that protection to you. We don’t support that notion.”