Banning guns in legislatures

Among the reactions to the shootings in Tucson that killed six and wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others, have been a series of proposals to ban guns from buildings where lawmakers work. In Richmond, for example, Del. Patrick Hope sponsored a bill that would prohibit everyone except lawmakers and police from carrying guns into the Virginia State Capitol and the General Assembly building. Currently anyone with a valid gun permit is allowed to bring a gun, concealed or openly, into these buildings. On Monday of this week, known as Lobby Day at the Virginia General Assembly, gun rights advocates arrived at the capital packing heat. One went so far as to bring an AR-15 rifle.

Del. Hope argued that since guns were not permitted in airports, the U.S. Capitol or federal courthouses, they should not be allowed in the Virginia legislature. He said the bill would improve security for lawmakers, their staff members and visitors. But what he considered good for lawmakers, he apparently didn't see any need to extend to the general public; even if his bill passed (and after the show of arms last week, it probably won't) it would still leave in place relatively permissive standards for carrying concealed weapons. Interestingly, it comes at the same time that Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell lifted a ban on people openly carrying firearms in state parks.

Virginia is not alone in considering bans on guns in government buildings. Two Kentucky lawmakers have suggested a weapons ban for the state capitol, and several Iowa cities are considering bans in government buildings. In New Hampshire, however, legislators voted last week to overturn a ban on weapons in the State House and to permit concealed weapons on the House floor and in the visitors' gallery.

In Annapolis, according to the Code of Maryland Regulations, carrying firearms, open or concealed, into state buildings is prohibited except by authorized personnel.

Gun rights groups have scoffed at the proposed ban of guns in capitols, calling it a knee-jerk reaction to the Tucson shooting. But gun control advocates noted that the lawmakers seem eager to ban firearms from the buildings where they work but shy away from providing the same protection to the general public.

When lawmakers feel threatened, they want to restrict access to guns in the workplace. That is a wise policy, but that protection should not be restricted to those who labor in state capitol buildings.

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