SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The recent shooting of an Arizona congresswoman and threats against several California state lawmakers have prompted officials who guard state Assembly members to carry handguns full-time.
California Assembly sergeants previously were armed only when threat levels were high or during large events, Assembly spokeswoman Shannon Murphy said.
Beginning this month, they started carrying .40 caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic handguns whenever on duty.
Murphy said the Assembly made the policy change in response to the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona in January, and well-publicized threats this year against Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, and state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.
"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," Murphy said.
Sergeants in both chambers provide security for individual lawmakers and during committee and floor sessions. They all are sworn peace officers trained to use firearms.
The state Senate doesn't plan to follow the lead of the Assembly.
"At least at this point, it's not something that the Senate feels is necessary. We've made pretty substantial investments in security in and around the Capitol that we feel is effective," Senate spokesman Nathan Barankin said.
Armed California Highway Patrol officers also guard the Capitol around the clock, and visitors must pass through metal detectors before entering the building.
"For me, that wasn't good enough," said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, who said she has sometimes felt threatened by members of the public. She and other members asked Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, to change the policy after the attack in Arizona.
Within days of that shooting, a Palm Springs man was arrested on federal charges of threatening public officials, including Manuel Perez. Investigators said the man previously had been escorted from the assemblyman's office after he began ranting about the federal health care bill and how he didn't want to support immigrants and Latinos.
Yee has received verbal and written threats at least four times over the years he has served in the Assembly and Senate, most recently in January when he criticized talk radio host Rush Limbaugh's imitation of the Chinese language.
Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin said Yee relies on the professional judgment of the sergeants in both chambers and is comfortable with both decisions on firearms.
Sergeants have provided security outside the building for the Assembly speaker but have not routinely guarded the Senate president pro tem.
"The sort of full-throttle security is something that is provided as needed," said Barankin. "No one gets it as a matter of routine."