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Finley: Guns and politics don't mix

Nolan Finley   | The Detroit News

Even in the gun-toting wild, wild West, there were places where firearms weren't welcome.

Old Tuscon, the legendary haven for gunslingers, demanded visitors leave their weapons at either the hotel or sheriff's office on entering town.

One of the first ordinances passed in Dodge City, Kansas, was a ban on carrying guns within the city limits.

In most places in America today, the right to bear arms is more expansive than it was 150 years ago, and that's generally a good thing.

But it's not a threat to the Second Amendment to agree a few, specific locations should be gun-free.

One of those places is under the dome of the state Capitol.

Earlier this week, the Michigan Capitol Commission, a body charged with maintaining and restoring the building and its grounds, deadlocked 3-3 on a pair of measures to ban guns from the Capitol. 

The vote was triggered by an incident in April when protesters openly carrying their firearms jammed the Capitol during a legislative session.

It understandably made lawmakers nervous, and I suspect that was what the armed protesters intended.

Making people nervous is not the smartest approach to protecting a constitutional right that is increasingly at risk. When people are afraid, their first instinct is to pass laws aimed at making the thing that frightened them go away.

I say that as a Second Amendment true believer, a hunter and lifelong gun owner. My parents gave me a shotgun for my 12th birthday, and I gave my son a rifle for his high school graduation.

Still, I strongly object to allowing armed citizens to stand in the balcony of a legislative chamber, their weapons on full display, while lawmakers are debating policy. How could a reasonable person view that as anything other than intimidation?

It also presents an enormous challenge to security personnel in trying to discern who among the crowd present a danger, and who are simply making a show of their right to bear arms.

That's the reason I find open carry problematic, particularly in settings such as schools and street protests. It places too heavy a burden on those whose job it is to keep the public safe.

Beyond that, no right should be exercised with the goal of stifling political discourse. Passionate policy debates are vital to democratic governing. The atmosphere in a legislative chamber should get tense once in a while, and even angry.

Lawmakers engaged in vigorous exchanges shouldn't have to worry that a gun barrel might be pointed in their direction.

I don't fault the Capitol Commission for not settling the issue. It should never have been in its lap. The commissioners are there to hire landscapers and pick out paint swatches.

Such substantive policy matters should be handled by the Legislature, and that's where the question of guns in the Capitol should go next.

Lawmakers would do Second Amendment advocates a favor by adopting a ban and in doing so denying the confiscation crowd an opportunity to use the issue to fuel more more anti-gun paranoia.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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