Why Can’t We Have Assault Rifles In The Halls Of Congress?

Monday night, Leah Gunn Barrett, Executive Director at New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, appeared on MSNBC’s “All In” with Chris Hayes. Barrett, whose brother was murdered in Oklahoma in 1997, had something interesting to say about the reluctance in Congress to do something meaningful in terms of reforming our gun laws:

If congressmen actually had to live in the gun-plagued areas of Washington, D.C., then they might change their tune. They don’t. They live in a bubble. You have to go through a metal detector to go into Congress. You can’t bring assault rifles into Congress. If they want assault rifles on the streets of America, then why can’t we have them in the halls of Congress?

When I first heard that, I thought it was a bit hyperbolic. Of course we can’t have assault rifles in congressional buildings. How crazy is that?

Then I tried to trace the logic that leads one to conclude that assault rifles or any other weapons have no place in Congress, especially assault rifles or other weapons carried by members of the public. The obvious trail of common sense leads to the idea that our legislators, performing public service out in public, shouldn’t be subject to worrying about folks, some of whom might not like some of the public service being performed, packing guns.

But then that logic led me to conclude that as public servants, legislators need to be exposed to the public in lots of public places, not just in the halls of Congress. Thus, once again common sense says that public servants shouldn’t have to worry about people packing guns anywhere in public. But of course in many parts of this country, they do have to worry about it. People can carry guns in all sorts of places, including in supermarket parking lots in Tucson, where Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 others were shot and six were killed, including a nine-year-old girl who was there to see Giffords.

After considering all of that, I then tried to apply the logic of the gun fanatics—like those who run the NRA or unequivocally support it in Congress—to the case of packing guns in the halls or galleries of the United States Capitol. By their logic, there is absolutely no reason why folks shouldn’t be able to carry into congressional buildings any sort of legal weapon, including military-style assault weapons.

The logic of the fanatics goes like this: gun owners are overwhelmingly law-abiding folks and the rights of law-abiding folks ought not to be infringed, even if they want to observe their congressional representatives at work while keeping company with a Bushmaster AR-15, the same assault weapon Adam Lanza used to shoot into the terrified faces of six-year-old kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And why should legislators, those who support the NRA’s fanatical logic, object to such a thing? Why shouldn’t they argue that we should open up the doors and let every gun-toter in the country walk into congressional buildings armed and ready?

Because although the gun manufacturer-protecting legislators may be NRA toadies, they are not nuts. They know that allowing folks with guns into their place of work would not have a happy ending. And thus we are back to the logic of Leah Gunn Barrett, who asked,

If they want assault rifles on the streets of America, then why can’t we have them in the halls of Congress?

We can’t have them in the halls of Congress because those in charge have a better grasp of reality relative to their small society of legislators than they have for our larger society of citizens. And as President Obama said in that amazing speech in Connecticut on Monday night,

…we’ve got to expect more from Congress.  We’ve got to believe that every once in a while, we set politics aside and we just do what’s right. We’ve got to believe that.

Yes, we have to believe that, even though it seems impossible to believe it at the moment.

ian and nicole hockleyAttending President Obama’s speech in Hartford was Nicole Hockley and her husband Ian. Their autistic son, six-year-old Dylan—“always laughing and smiling” Nicole said—was killed at Sandy Hook. Dylan was cremated and his urn sits “next to his picture in a cupboard in our bedroom on our dresser,” Nicole said. “Every morning I kiss him good morning and say hi, and he’s the last thing I kiss before I go to bed at night.”

The President referenced Dylan’s mom in his Connecticut speech, a speech that really was a call to citizen action:

I’ve heard Nicole talk about what her life has been like since Dylan was taken from her in December.  And one thing she said struck me.  She said, “Every night, I beg for him to come to me in my dreams so that I can see him again.  And during the day, I just focus on what I need to do to honor him and make change.” 

Now, if Nicole can summon the courage to do that, how can the rest of us do any less?  How can we do any less? 

You tell me.

Dylan Hockley

Dylan Hockley



  1. ansonburlingame

     /  April 9, 2013

    Interesting to try to follow “liberal logic 101”. If Congress can or cannot do certain things, then……….


    Get their own HC program, get paid (as citizen legislators) wages far beyond the average Joe, get to decide for us instead of “us” deciding for ourselves very important issues all the time. If the Speaker gets a limo, well why should not ………..? Pretty soon, limos for all at government expense I suppose!!

    Let’s follow the logic of the NRA as well. Guns are not dangerous but some people are. OK don’t let dangerous people into the halls of Congress either!!!! Go figure out how to do that one!

    So open up Congress to all the guns one can carry but let’s do background checks on every citizen entering Congressional buildings, along with a psych exam, to make sure they are not dangerous. On yeah, no aliens alllowed either in a Congressional building???

    I’m confused but you all already knew that, right?.



  2. LisaF

     /  April 9, 2013

    We have a two tiered society with two sets of rules. Sell some drugs as a low level street thug, go to jail and have your possessions confiscated. But a banking giant like HSBC can knowingly launder hundreds of billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and they pay a fine which amounts to 5 weeks of income.

    It will take a shooting at Friends Sidwell or another elite school plutocrat’s children attend to change the conversation and then it will happen overnight.

    These people live in their own bubble and until the people of America demand change and I mean out in the street making them fear for their livelihoods, nothing will change.


    • ansonburlingame

       /  April 10, 2013


      I disagree with your “two tiered” comment. America has so many “tiers” it would be impossible to count them all or measure what each one might be. Many “tiers” means “diversity” and we have plenty of it.

      It is when we try to “simplify” the problem that we get into trouble. We try to make all issues one against one, or 99 against 1. It, understanding the problems in American society is far more complex than that simple “two tiered” approach, at least in my view.



  3. 1. There are guns in the halls of Congress. They are used by the U.S. Capital Police in their protective duties.
    2. Throughout the country guns, except those carried by law enforcement, are so far as I know uniformly banned from all places in which contentious public issues are debated, including trials, legislatures and town-hall meetings. This seems to amount to a consensus that guns and controversy don’t mix.
    3. Controversy can arise anywhere at any time, as it did at the Arizona strip mall where Gabby Giffords was speaking. Therefore the NRA logic of permitting, even encouraging, citizens to carry guns in public is, as Duane says, hypocritical.
    4. In other words, I agree with this post. Good one.


  4. Duane:

    I don’t know if you saw Arin Burnett’s interview with the rascally Tom Coburn last night (the 9th), but it was pretty revealing: http://outfront.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/09/sen-coburn-gun-bill-will-make-it-to-a-vote/

    Sen. Tom says he wants to follow the Constitution, that everyone should have a right to “defend” themselves, and that he’s OK with background checks as long as there is no record of it. On that latter point, he argues that the Constitution says “The government doesn’t have a right to know whether I own a gun or not.” He then does a 180 and wants to exclude the mentally ill and felons from owing guns. I can’t find a prohibition in the 2nd Amendment that says the mentally ill and felons can’t own guns. There is also no age limit, nor is there a list of weapons that the public is forbidden to buy. Uh, Tom, we already have gun control.

    As to his claim that the Government doesn’t have a right to know who owns guns, Coburn needs to refer to the Constitution where it says in Article 1, Section 8, Congress has the power, “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” That means, Senator, that the Congress can make laws regulating the manufacture, distribution, and sale of guns.

    I would also refer the Senator to the first three words of the Preamble of the Constitution – “We the people.” We the people have vested certain powers to the three branches of government, which powers were granted so that the government would act in the interest of the people. If the President and the Justices of the Supreme Court and the Members of Congress are to keep their pledge to defend the Constitution, then that means any Executive Order, Supreme Court decision, and act of Congress must be for the benefit of the people – all the people. This would seemingly prohibit the government from acting for the benefit of corporations or special interest groups or unions, or lobbyists, or campaign contributors, or the NRA unless such actions first and foremost benefit we the people.

    That said, I believe Congress should pass a gun control law that would require all non-law enforcement and non-military persons who wish to buy a gun to get a permit, be licensed and demonstrate some proficiency in the use and safety aspects of said gun. This would apply to each transaction involving the sale or purchase of each individual gun. Gun owners should also be required to buy liability insurance just like they do for their car. I would also set a limit of six rounds in each rifle, shotgun or pistol. Of course, there would also be limits on places where guns may be carried, such as “the halls of Congress.” And there would be a permit fee and excise tax on all gun sales and the sale of ammunition, the proceeds from which would be used to pay for the bureaucracy this law would create. (And that means more jobs!) There would also be appropriate fines and jail time for any violations.

    Such a law would be well within the confines of the Constitution, provide for the public safely, and still protect the rights of gun owners under the 2nd Amendment. Unfortunately, Congress only works at the pleasure of big money and special interests. We the people are quite a way down on the priority list.


    p.s., I saw this morning on CNN that 6-year-old New Jersey boy has died after being shot in the head by a 4-year-old playmate. The 4-year-old went to his house and came out with a .22 rifle. But what the hell. We don’t want to impair the 2nd Amendment rights of the gun owner now do we?


    • Herb,

      You illustrate very well the incoherence in the minds of those who pretend, only pretend, to be staunch defenders of the Constitution.

      If one reads the Heller decision, one concludes that the way even conservatives on the Court interpret the Second Amendment is a universe away from where the Coburns and other ignorant Constitution lovers are. Essentially Scalia said that people have a right to own a handgun for use at home, but the government can license it and register it.

      Thus, the government can do all the things you outline (I concur, by the way, and in my perfect world would not grandfather in a soul, although I recognize that would be unenforceable without another Civil War) under the Second Amendment.

      The fact that Scalia will not be a party to any ridiculously obscene interpretation of the Second Amendment is exactly, exactly, why the gun lobby (read: the NRA) is fighting so hard to keep anything that even slightly burdens gun ownership from becoming law.



      • Duane,

        Thanks. I whipped up an Op-Ed piece for the Globe this morning using a variation of the comments I made here and just e-mailed it. I titled it, “The Right to Keep from Being Shot.” Be interesting to see if they publish it.



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