Washington (CNN)A Texas Republican lawmaker invoked the shooting of former Rep. Gabby Giffords to explain why he is not hosting in-person town halls.
“Unfortunately, at this time there are groups from the more violent strains of the leftist ideology, some even being paid, who are preying on public town halls to wreak havoc and threaten public safety. Threats are nothing new to me and I have gotten my share as a felony judge,” Rep. Louie Gohmert told constituents in a letter Tuesday.
“However, the House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed — just as happened there,” he wrote.
Giffords, a former Arizona Democrat, was shot in the head in January 2011 at a “Congress on Your Corner” event near a Tucson grocery store.
Jared Lee Loughner wounded 13 people and six people were killed during the shooting rampage. Authorities said Giffords was the main target.
Giffords issued a response to Gohmert Thursday, rebuking his decision not to meet with constituents in person.
“To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls,” said Giffords in a statement.
She added: “I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning, my offices were open to the public. Ron Barber — at my side that Saturday, who was shot multiple times, then elected to Congress in my stead — held town halls. It’s what the people deserve in a representative.”
In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront” Thursday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders echoed Giffords’ message.
“If you don’t have the guts to face your constituents, then you shouldn’t be in the United States Congress,” Sanders said. “If you need police at the meetings, that’s fine, have police at the meetings, have security at the meetings, but don’t use that as an excuse to run away from your constituents.”
Following Giffords’ shooting, Gohmert unsuccessfully proposed allowing members of Congress to carry guns in Washington and on the floor of the US House of Representatives.
Gohmert said in his letter he will host “telephone town halls” until “the threat of violence” decreases.
“In the same amount of time it takes to have a town hall meeting, which usually has between 30 and 100 attendees in east Texas, I can communicate with thousands of my constituent bosses through a telephone town hall meeting,” he wrote. “When the threat of violence at town hall meetings recedes, we can go back to having the civil town hall meetings I’ve had in the past to supplement the masses reached in our telephone town halls.”
Town halls with lawmakers are often relatively mild affairs, but they have increasingly become heated as citizens across the country let lawmakers know that they don’t support President Donald Trump’s positions on the Affordable Care Act, immigration and other issues.
While some White House officials have dismissed many of those pushing back on the administration as paid protestors, other Republican lawmakers who have hosted the events say the attendees are constituents deeply concerned about the President’s direction for the country.
Gohmert said a group asking for town halls for the purpose of agitating circulated a manual instructing attendees on how to be disruptive.
“Statements like this in their community organizing materials are not ‘non-partisan,’ ” as they their playbook tells them to claim that they are,” Gohmert said. “Some public town halls from this particular group recently boasted having agitators even come in from other states to cause havoc.”