Anderson: Guns at the Capitol? Beware of the recoil

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2013 - 12:03 AM

Too strong a push might have an unexpected effect.

American politics have long been rife with deployment of guns, large and small, so much so that this nation arguably was founded, shaped and advanced as much by ordnance as philosophy. So the debate, now current, at the State Capitol in St. Paul over whether legally armed citizens should be allowed in that building’s hallowed halls brandishing holstered side arms represents only the latest chapter in our history, not a new one.

Yet take comfort that dueling has fallen out of fashion.

History buffs will recall that on July 11, 1804, the sitting vice president of the United States, Aaron Burr, and the nation’s former secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, resolved their long-running quarrels through the sights of Wogdon dueling pistols. When the air cleared — between them the two had participated in about a dozen previous duels — Hamilton lay mortally wounded, a murder for which Burr was later indicted, but never convicted — an important distinction, as Bill Murray reminded us in the movie “Stripes.’’

For perspective, note that Minnesota is one of only about a dozen states that allow handgun packing in their statehouses. Count Texas among these also, though curiously during a recent spat over abortion legislation there, guards at its Capitol confiscated tampons as possible threats to lawmakers’ safety, while waving through without worry our old pals Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson. Go figure.

In Minnesota, where authorized handgun carriers must notify State Capitol security of their intent to carry at the statehouse, the issue is more clear-cut — kind of.

Here, gun advocates rightly make the point that certain among them have been approved by the state to carry handguns in public, and that the people’s chambers should not be exclusionary as a destination in which this right can be exercised.

Opponents, meanwhile, counter that firearms, whether concealed or exposed, lugged into the Capitol are intimidating, if not utterly wacky, and therefore undercut, or possibly undercut, the free exchange of competing ideas whose proper resolution is impossible when one side battles with words, while the other fights with words and, if only by their presence, our old friends Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson.

As the novelist Chuck Palahniuk said, “Everyone smiles with that invisible gun to their head.’’

But there’s a bigger issue.

The Minnesota Capitol, a wondrous, historic structure now undergoing a $272 million facelift, is and always has been a fortress without protection. Most days there’s no guard at its doors, not even a moat or helium-filled balloon in the shape of a German shepherd.

Granted, it’s cool that schoolchildren and other gawkers can come and go freely without having their backpacks scanned and their shoes removed. But it’s not very smart policy, and it invites trouble, particularly at a time when, as the front page of this newspaper reports nearly daily, anything goes.

The point is, if we’re going to debate Capitol security, and propriety, then relativity of threats, and problems, should be considered.

So:

Even if, as gun opponents assert (weakly), handgun carriers at the Capitol might gain undeserving consideration of some viewpoints, and/or might implicitly threaten opponents, thereby undermining the Capitol’s long-practiced decorum and even-handed consideration of divergent opinions, by far the greater worry among Capitol regulars and visitors should be that the building isn’t secure.

In this way, Minnesota’s most important structure presents itself to the public differently than most other major businesses (including the Star Tribune) and institutions (think courthouses) in the Twin Cities.

It’s this that should be of far greater concern to the citizenry and especially legislators than the statistically nonexistent “threat’’ posed by legal owners of legal guns legally carried, in the Capitol or elsewhere.

That said, gun advocates should know that the public’s good will on this issue is finite, that most people in this state don’t carry handguns, don’t want to carry handguns, and aren’t comfortable seeing others with handguns, perhaps especially in public meetings where fair play is expected to be — and must be — the governing principle.

So in the end, should handgun advocates insist their rights supersede all others in all instances, the salvo that could ring loudest from this debate is the sound of gun owners shooting themselves in the foot.

Burr did in fact outduel Hamilton.

But in the end, the onetime vice president of the United States ended up a political nobody who was later tried for treason and died in relative obscurity.

Hardly the victory he envisioned.

 

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets - B. Colon 6:05 PM
Washington - T. Roark
Baltimore - U. Jimenez 6:05 PM
NY Yankees - B. McCarthy
Kansas City - Y. Ventura 6:05 PM
Cleveland - D. Salazar
Seattle - F. Hernandez 6:07 PM
Toronto - R. Dickey
Chicago WSox - S. Carroll 6:08 PM
Detroit - D. Price
Philadelphia - C. Hamels 6:10 PM
Miami - H. Alvarez
Pittsburgh - G. Cole 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Wood
Milwaukee - M. Fiers 6:10 PM
Cincinnati - J. Cueto
Tampa Bay - A. Cobb 6:10 PM
Boston - C. Buchholz
Houston - B. Oberholtzer 7:05 PM
Texas - N. Martinez
St. Louis - S. Miller 7:05 PM
Chicago Cubs - K. Hendricks
Arizona - A. Chafin 7:10 PM
Minnesota - K. Gibson
LA Angels - W. LeBlanc 9:05 PM
Oakland - S. Gray
San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 9:10 PM
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke
Colorado - J. De La Rosa 9:10 PM
San Diego - R. Erlin
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Buffalo 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Green Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Tennessee 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Carolina 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Detroit 9/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Tampa Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Miami 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Oakland
Jacksonville 9/28/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Atlanta 9/28/14 3:25 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 9/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
New Orleans 9/28/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New England 9/29/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Carolina 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Pittsburgh 6:00 PM
Columbus
Boston 6:30 PM
Montreal
Nashville 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Philadelphia 6:30 PM
Toronto
Detroit 7:30 PM
Chicago
San Jose 8:00 PM
Vancouver
Arizona 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Vancouver 9:30 PM
San Jose
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Winnipeg
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close