I imagine in the wake of this Arizona shooting that there’ll be a move to deliver more security around members of congress as they travel in-state. I think that would be a real mistake. As horrible as what happened this weekend is, the fact of the matter is that political assassinations are extremely rare and it’s simply not the case that the country faces some kind of systematic assassination problem. What’s we do have in the United States is an unusually high level of violent crime across the board, but pulling police resources off their day-to-day work and onto personal security for politicians is going to make that worse.
The change that we ought to be making, however, is an institutional one relating to the question of what happens if someone shoots a United States Senator. I think it would sit poorly with all of us if assassinating a senator led to a change in partisan control of the senate via gubernatorial appointment, but many states’ laws leave the door open to that possibility. Senators ought to be replaced, in my view, either through a special election or else through an appointee pre-designated by the Senator as a legitimate proxy for his or her approach to politics.
This is the kind of thing that we tend not to think about until after it’s happened, but by that time it’s too late. The political system itself needs to be made as resilient as possible to attempted violent interventions.