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January 04. 2013 12:26AM

The House gun ban: A body unsecured

To no one's surprise, the state House of Representatives voted 196-153 on Wednesday to reinstate the old ban on firearms on the House floor and in the gallery and anterooms. It was a statement two years in the making for the new Democratic majority. In their Constitution-waving opposition, some Republicans gave a reminder of why they found their way into the minority last November.

Many Republicans complained that a House rule forbidding firearms on the floor of the chamber and in the gallery and anterooms was a gross violation of the Second Amendment. It would serve self-appointed defenders of the Constitution well were they to make themselves more familiar with constitutional law.

Writing for the majority in the famous D.C. vs. Heller opinion in 2008, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made perfectly clear that a) the Second Amendment protected the individual's God-given right to bear arms for self-protection, and b) that right was "not unlimited."

"From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose," Scalia wrote, adding "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."

There is a perfectly legitimate case to be made for removing arms from the immediate reach of legislators engaged in passionate political debate as well as from witnesses (who sometimes become passionate participants) in the gallery. Doing so in no way violates the Second Amendment. Overplaying their hand while refusing to compromise is the kind of behavior that so many voters found distasteful in so many House Republicans in the past two years.

However, disarming legislators and gallery visitors without providing armed security personnel to protect them from the entirely predictable possibility that some lunatic decides to martyr or avenge himself in the House chamber is foolhardy. We have armed guards in courthouses for similar reasons. Pretending that a House rule will prevent such a happening in the State House is to endanger everyone who enters that building.


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