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Shaken Lawmakers Gather on Capitol Steps After Arizona Shooting

Members of Congress and staff members observe a moment of silence for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and other shooting victims, Monday, Jan. 10, 2011, on the East Steps of the Capitol in Washington
Members of Congress and staff members observe a moment of silence for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and other shooting victims, Monday, Jan. 10, 2011, on the East Steps of the Capitol in Washington
Cindy Saine

A number of lawmakers and as many as 500 congressional staff members gathered on the east front steps of the U.S. Capitol Monday to hold a moment of silence for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and all of the other victims of Saturday’s shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona that left 6 people dead.  Giffords is still in critical condition and the suspected gunman appeared in court Monday afternoon.

The House members who have returned to Capitol Hill appear shaken and unsure what actions to take to respond to the attempted assassination of their colleague.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama also observed a moment of silence at the White House Monday, as did Americans across the country.  Afterwards, Mr. Obama talked to reporters alongside visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"The main thing we are doing is to offer our thought and prayers to those who have been impacted, making sure that we are joining together and pulling together as a country.  And as president of the United States, but also as a father, obviously I am spending a lot of time just thinking about the families and reaching out to them,” he said.

One of the six people killed was a nine-year-old girl.  The president also praised those bystanders at the scene who took quick action to tackle the gunman and to take away his ammunition as he tried to reload.

On the steps of the Capitol, Representative Emmanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri and a pastor, followed the moment of silence by leading an interdenominational prayer for all those killed and wounded in the attack, for the spirit of the United States and for the safety of all lawmakers.

"Help us move from this dark place to a place of sunshine and hope. Bless these God, your servants who serve this nation and keep them safe,” he said.

Republican Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the new Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was glad the Republican leadership had suspended normal House business for one week.

"I think it was appropriate to take a step back and not be in session for what was going to be a shortened week anyway because of the Republican retreat,” he said.

But Upton told a reporter he does not believe it is necessary for Congress to take additional steps that would further restrict gun ownership.

The House had originally been set to hold a contentious vote on Wednesday to repeal President Obama’s sweeping health care reform legislation, before Republican members head to Baltimore, Maryland for a previously scheduled retreat.

Some Democratic lawmakers are floating ideas for new legislation once business resumes on Capitol Hill.  Democratic Representative Robert Brady of Pennsylvania says he would like to expand current legislation that put restrictions on images and words that threaten the president to include words and images that threaten members of Congress. Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York wants to introduce gun control legislation.

Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from Washington, D.C. said it is highly unlikely that the new Republican-controlled House will pass tougher gun control laws.  But she says she is still not afraid and will continue to go out and meet with her constituents face to face.

"There is no practical way to change what we do.  The reason we are elected every two years is that the framers [authors of the Constitution] meant us to get as close to the people as possible, for them to judge us.  One way they will judge us is if they see us fleeing from them, because they will think we are afraid of them,” she said.

Rank and file House members currently do not have any security guards.

New House Speaker John Boehner says there will be no recorded votes on the floor of the House this week, though there will be a resolution introduced on Wednesday to honor the victims of the Tuscon massacre. Also on Wednesday, House members will receive a major security briefing involving the Capitol Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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