Gun bans in capitol buildings draw cries of hypocrisy
By Esme E. Deprez and William Selway
Sioux Falls state Rep. Steve Hickey has 17 guns, a National Rifle Association card and a faith that pistol-packing residents make public places safer — except for the one where he works.
“We have the most contentious issues being debated in public policy, affecting people in irate, angrily ways and affecting millions and millions of dollars,” Hickey said of the copper-domed capitol in Pierre, where he sponsored a law allowing teachers to carry fi rearms in schools. “This is different than when you go work at the bar. This is different than you working at the bank.”
Hickey, 46, a Republican representative first elected in 2010, said the “school sentinel” bill he sponsored this year would allow the arming of a select group, such as ex-military personnel or teachers who are former police officers. Many South Dakota schools in rural areas lack the resources to employ full-time security, said Hickey, a Christian minister.
He helped defeat a proposal to let the public carry guns year-round in the capitol, which also houses the offices of the governor, state Supreme Court and the treasurer. Instead, Hickey offered an amendment to open the building to guns on the 320 days a year when the legislature isn’t in session. Lawmakers rejected the bill.
“Gun-free zones are dangerous places, except for the criminal,” he said. Nonetheless, “there are times and places to disarm people.”
The push to permit guns in more public areas largely ends at the doors of America’s statehouses.
Since the 2012 shooting of 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., legislators in 18 states have passed laws allowing guns in more places, including restaurants, schools and churches. The best antidote to violence, backers like Hickey and the NRA argue, is the presence or threat of more weapons, not fewer. Only four of those states — Utah, Idaho, Mississippi and Texas — apply that same logic to their legislative chambers, leading critics to say that politicians are giving themselves special treatment.
A new law in West Virginia, for instance, prevents local officials from barring residents from carrying concealed firearms into recreation facilities, as long as guns are securely stored inside. It doesn’t apply to city halls or the Charleston statehouse.
“They did it everywhere but where they are,” said Republican Mayor Danny Jones, of Charleston, the West Virginia capital. “It says that the road to power is paved with hypocrisy. That’s what’s going on here.”
All 50 states allow residents to carry concealed guns outside their homes, though officials can still ban them from certain places.
Patrons in South Carolina and North Carolina no longer need to disarm when entering a bar. In Arkansas, that right extends to houses of worship with leaders’ permission and affiliated K-12 schools. Georgia last month passed legislation critics called the “guns everywhere” bill, allowing firearms to be carried even in airports outside of security checkpoints. None of those states allow the public to carry guns into legislatures, according to police.
In Indiana, guns are prohibited at the statehouse, though law enforcement, legislators with a license and judges can carry them. In March, the state’s Republican-led general assembly passed a bill that allows firearms to be kept in vehicles on school property.