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How Reps Meet and Greet Public

Long Island delegation will get larger police presence at public gatherings; Israel plans constituent meetings in firehouses.

Members of Long Island's Congressional delegation intend to change the way they meet and greet their constituents in the aftermath of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona this weekend.

In an indication of how the Tucson bloodbath has swiftly altered the political landscape, (D-2nd) will hold meetings with voters at fire houses around his district, which includes much of Plainview and the western portion of Suffolk County. 

"I have decided to increase the safety and comfort of my constituents by holding future congressional community meetings in local volunteer fire departments," Israel said as an addendum to an opinion piece he wrote which was  published in "Our local firefighters lead us in safety and security and I appreciate their willingness to host these meetings in the future."

Others are making changes as well:

Rep. Peter King, (R-3rd) will alert local police to his community events, something he didn't do previously. "I'm going to be keeping my eyes and ears open a bit more than I have in the past," King, the Long Island delegation's only Republican, said in a televised interview. King's district encompasses a portion of Plainview and much of eastern Nassau County.

Jared L. Loughner, a disturbed 22-year-old college dropout, stands accused in the shooting which left six people dead Saturday, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and wounded 14 others. Giffords was shot at point-blank range in the head; her condition remains critical. The shooting took place outside a supermarket where Giffords was meeting constituents of Arizona's 9th Congressional District. Loughner was subdued at the scene by witnesses.

Three of the dead were constituents of Giffords' district in their 70s, typical of many older Americans who actively participate in public meetings with elected representatives.

In published reports, Israel said Suffolk County Police requested a meeting with him and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-1) on Monday to discuss their security needs. Police want advance notice of public events, which are usually held at libraries, supermarkets and schools, so they can increase the police presence.

Israel could not be immediately reached for further comment.

Volunteer fire departments would likely be open to hosting public events, said Tom McDonough, Chief of the , but they may pose new issues.

"We're very community minded," McDonough said. "It might give a sense of security, but we don't have metal detectors and we don't know who is going to show up."

McDonough suggested that elected officials consider holding meetings at court houses, which have standing security details and screening devices.

"Again, we're very community oriented, but I can't guarantee anyone's security in the firehouse," he said. "We're not peace officers. We're firefighters."

The shooting rampage has stirred a firestorm of debate about political vitriole on the airwaves. Giffords' Congressional district in Tucson was "targeted" on a map with cross-hairs by Sarah Palin's political operatives.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-4), whose husband was killed and son was shot by a gunman in 1993, issued a statement this weekend saying that meeting with the public was one of the "greatest privileges" of being American:

"As someone who's experienced senseless gun violence firsthand...this is clearly an illustration of why we must all work together to fight gun violence in America and keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of the wrong people," McCarthy said.

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