In the debate about the rights of citizens to carry weapons in the viewing gallery of legislative chambers at the state Capitol, the voice of reason comes from what might be considered an unexpected source.
Members of the Legislature recently passed rules to prohibit the open carry of weapons in the galleries. And, as noted by Alan Gottlieb, founder and chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the rules are “the result of a few stupid extremists on our side who not only handled their firearms unsafely, but made hundreds of Second Amendment supporters at the rally look foolish.”
In a recent incident, some of the weapons were loaded, and on at least one occasion a chambered round was ejected onto the gallery floor. Deputy Minority Leader Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, added: “All the rules of gun safety were violated. It’s too bad, because I don’t think they represented your average gun owners.”
In other words, a couple bad apples have spoiled the whole bunch.
The incident in question followed a rally at the Capitol by gun-rights advocates, who were protesting increased background checks for gun purchases as approved by voters in the form of Initiative 594 in November. The initiative passed with 59 percent of the statewide vote. In the wake of the rally, several protesters attended a legislative session while brandishing their weapons, in adherence with the state’s open-carry laws. But in the process, they violated rules against protest signs or props in the gallery, leading both chambers to establish rules explicitly banning the open carry of guns, firearms or knives. Citizens who have a concealed-weapon license still will be allowed to carry guns.
The issue is one that straddles the line between the Second Amendment guarantee that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” and a desire for common sense to prevail. As debate over gun control heats up, gun-rights proponents throughout the country frequently have taken to flaunting their right to carry eye-catching weapons.
The notion that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should often is lost among such proponents. As the Dallas Morning News, in gun-friendly Texas, has written editorially, “It’s provocative and intimidating — and even dumb — to brandish them in busy public environments.” As the San Antonio Express-News has written editorially in the wake of gun-toting episodes, “They were intimidating displays that did nothing to sell the notion that gun owners are sensible folks, though most are, which is why they don’t tote guns in public.”
Such is the problem with last week’s display at the state Capitol. While the outdoor rally was a reasonable protest in which gun-rights advocates expressed their opinions, the decision by some to take the protest inside the legislative chambers served to harm their cause. It served to suggest that many gun owners are not sensible folks. It served as a misguided attempt to intimidate those who believe that crowded public spaces are not the proper forum for carrying loaded guns.
The absurdity of the act is highlighted by the fact that chamber rules require that people carrying backpacks leave them outside, but those citizens could carry firearms into the house of the people. The Legislature’s decision to alter those rules is a matter of common sense prevailing.
As Gottlieb, the gun-rights advocate, said, “Irresponsible actions get us bad results. This kind of childish theater hurts our cause.”