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California Assembly beefs up security with armed guards

by Alan Markow, published

Politics has never been considered a business for the faint of heart, but California's Assembly now considers it a life or death matter.  The Assembly has decided to arm its guards with .40 caliber semi-automatic pistols.  You may be surprised to learn that the sergeant-at-arms corps hadn't been armed except for emergencies in the past, and that only California Highway Patrol officers assigned to the legislature carried weapons.  In fact, the state Senate is continuing the traditional weapons-free protection for the time being.

But for the Assembly, the combination of the shooting attack on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and threats against Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, and state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, were enough to tip the scales.

     "In this day and age, it's not unusual for there to be sworn officers to protect people who work in and visit the Capitol," said Assembly spokeswoman Shannon Murphy.

The Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday that the new policy was instituted at the direction of Assembly Speaker John A. Perez. 

The Los Angeles Democrat has also:

     "attempted other protocol changes since taking the reins as speaker last year, including cracking down on dress codes, members' text messages to lobbyists and reporters' tape recorders," according to the Bee.

Security officers for both the Assembly and the Senate are all sworn peace officers trained in the use of firearms.  However, the Senate isn't ready to go along with the new policy at this point in time.

     "We never thought there was any need to have additional armed security in the Capitol," said Greg Schmidt, secretary of the Senate, sounding a bit testy at the lack of consultation by the Assembly on this issue. "I would hope we would at least have a broader discussion on this and discuss the rationale for it."

While there is no general consensus on the efficacy of putting weapons in the hands of legislative sergeants-at-arms, more than half of all state legislatures provide some form of armed protection in their capitals.  In the meantime, technologies such as metal detectors, remote sensors and video cameras have enhanced the ability of security personnel to keep up with the rise in threats and tensions that are part of a much more confrontational political world.

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