- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2001

A man in his late 40s sidled up to the south lawn of the White House yesterday and brandished a gun. He had no opportunity to fire because of the quick-thinking law-enforcement officers who stopped him. They tried for several minutes to talk the man into surrendering his gun and himself, and when he did not, they shot him, which is what anyone who threatens the safety of the president of the United States should expect them to do. Neither the president nor anyone in the White House was ever in danger of harm. For that we owe thanks to those charged with protecting the president. Nevertheless, the incident raises once more the issue of the security of the White House.

The Secret Service, the agency charged with the primary security of the president, persuaded Bill Clinton that it was necessary to barricade the avenue in front of the White House in the aftermath of the attack on a federal building in Oklahoma. That horrific deed, the most frightening incident of domestic terrorism in American history, misled federal authorities to believe that the only way to ensure the safety of the White House and its occupants was to set up the blockade that stands today.

What this has mostly accomplished is to make a four-block length of Pennsylvania Avenue the most revered stretch of pavement in America, a parking lot for Secret Service cars and trucks. The incident yesterday did not happen on Pennsylvania Avenue, or even near it, but on the opposite side of the White House, facing the National Mall and the Washington Monument. Closing the avenue did not deter this gunman.

The Bush administration, like the president's party, has pledged to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue, as have members of Congress of both parties. The avenue should never have been closed, and indeed it may well be that the barricading of the avenue has made the White House a more attractive and challenging target to the bad, the ugly and the deranged among us.

The Secret Service stands alone in its zeal to keep the avenue closed and to keep the White House barricaded as if it were a dictator's palace in Pyongyang, Havana or Port-au-Prince. There is no overestimating the symbolism of an unbarricaded White House in a free America. If the Secret Service believes that protecting the president is beyond its capability, other arrangements, such as more training or even assignment of the president's security to another law-enforcement agency, can be made.

The incident yesterday must not be allowed to become another excuse to keep Pennsylvania Avenue closed to the people who paid for it. All that remains to reopen the avenue is for President Bush, dedicated as he is to an open government, to listen to his own instincts and give the word to the Secret Service to clear the people's avenue.

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