Congress has been consumed by a gun-control debate weighing the need to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the need to defend oneself in case of attack.
But one senator pointed out to Attorney General Eric Holder today that those prosecuting the criminals reportedly have restrictions placed on their ability to defend themselves despite laws protecting where prosecutors who hold concealed carry permits can take their guns.
Just as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., stirred the broader gun-control debate ready to makes its Senate floor debut next week, the chilling attacks on two Texas state prosecutors have sparked concern about how those putting criminals behind bars can defend themselves from the next ambush.
Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were gunned down at their suburban Dallas home last weekend. NBC News reported McLelland was shot 20 times and his wife was shot once.
On Jan. 31, an assistant prosecutor in McLelland’s office, Mark Haase, was shot to death in a parking lot near the county courthouse. There have been no arrests in either case, though the Aryan Brotherhood is consistently named as a top suspect. In December, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a bulletin warning tips they’d received of retaliation plots in the works by the 4,000-strong prison gang.
After Haase’s death, McLelland, an Army vet, took to carrying a gun. Shortly before his death, he said in an interview that his colleagues need to be on alert and prepared for attacks. “The people in my line of work are going to have to get better at it, because they’re going to need it more in the future,” McLelland said.
On Tuesday, an assistant U.S. attorney in Houston withdrew from an Aryan Brotherhood racketeering case out of fears for his and his family’s safety.
And the net could be cast even farther as the FBI has been investigating potential ties between Hasse’s killing and the March 19 murder of Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said prosecutors are left less secure by reported flouting of 18 United States Code §930, which exempts “an officer, agent, or employee of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof, who is authorized by law to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of any violation of law” from the prohibition on carrying weapons in a federal facility.
“I am told that as a matter of policy, federal prosecutors are barred from carrying personal self-defense firearms to their offices (and parking facilities) even if they hold a state-issued concealed carry license,” Cornyn wrote to Holder and U.S. Courts Director Thomas Hogan.
“If this information is accurate and is a matter of federal court policy, then the safety and security of federal officials demands the policy’s immediate reconsideration,” the senator continued. “Prosecutor safety should start with enabling them to defend themselves from violent attack.”
Cornyn said he’s crafting legislation to reinforce judicial security and requested internal Justice Department or Courts policy on concealed carry by federal officials at federal court facilities.
“I am concerned for the safety of other prosecutors at both the federal and state levels,” he said. “These public servants carry out vital and dangerous duties that often target violent and organized criminal networks.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry doubled the $100,000 reward money for information leading to the arrest of suspects in the slayings of Haase and the McLellands.
“In recent years, they were both certainly aware of the danger Mike’s profession brought along with it, and the death of assistant DA Mark Hasse three months ago was as heavy on their minds as it was on their hearts,” Perry said at the McLellands’ funeral today. “Still, Mike didn’t turn away from his duties, and didn’t let it diminish his determination to do right by the people of Kaufman County.”
“If he were here today, I’m sure Mike would be the first to assure us all that we cannot waver in our dedication to the law, and we cannot diminish our resolve to find the evil-doers of society and put them where they can no longer do innocent people harm.”
Perry said on Fox News yesterday “there’s certainly an undercurrent of concern about elected officials being targeted here” but it was too soon to speculate on a group behind the attacks.
“I try to remind people regardless of who they are is that, you know, their personal safety is certainly to watching what’s going on around them, to be prepared and that — that’s certainly the case,” he said. “You know, unfortunately, we live in a very dangerous world whether it’s in North Korea or whether it’s right here in the state of Texas.”
When asked if the Aryan Brotherhood could be involved, the governor noted both the white supremacist gang and Mexican drug cartels are active in his state.
“I think it’s obviously, as I said, too early to be speculating on whether there is any direct contact. But again, I think it’s wise for us to not overlook any evidence that either may be superficial or otherwise,” Perry said.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) theorized on CNN today that the targeting of criminal justice officials may tie to a larger anti-government current in the nation.
“I think there is a growing movement in this country, which is anti-law enforcement, anti-authority, whether we’re talking about the sovereign citizen groups, whether we’re talking about Aryan Nation, the white supremacist groups. There is definitely a movement in this country,” King said.
“How significant it is, I don’t know. I was talking to a reporter who was working on the case in Texas, and he doesn’t know whether we’re talking about a significant group or we’re talking about some maniac operating out of his basement,” he continued. “But the fact is there is a growing amount of support for it. It may still be very small. But it’s more than it was last year or the year before or the year before that, for this type of violent reaction against government.”