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AT THE ROUNDHOUSE: Have gun – Will legislate

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Excuse me if I sound a little gun-shy, but I still have a couple of questions about this carrying firearms in the Capitol business.

Dan Boyd’s story in the Journal on Thursday morning notes that New Mexico is one of a few states in the country allowing the open and concealed carrying of guns in their capitols.

Rep. Brian Egolf and Sen. Peter Wirth think some restrictions in our Capitol are in order and have proposed similar but separate rules for the House and Senate.

The two Santa Fe Democrats say they are responding to constituents who are fearful of coming into the place when other members of the public are walking around with rifles slung from their necks or handguns strapped to their sides.

The result of the gun-restriction push so far is that a House committee voted to prohibit open carry of firearms in the House galleries, hallways and committee rooms, while a Senate committee rejected the idea for its areas right off the bat.

So my first question is – if the House restricts public carrying of firearms and the Senate does not – will I one day be looking across the third-floor railing and seeing an armed camp on the Senate side of the Capitol while I and others cower unarmed on the House side?

Also, would it become more intimidating to attend committee hearings, lobby or work on the Senate side than in the House?

Heaven forbid that actual gunfire, even defensive gunfire, would ever break out in this building where I have worked for so many years – home to so many people and a process I so greatly respect.

I am no shooting expert, but line-of-fire-wise it seems important to note here that our Capitol is round, inside and out, and often crowded.

Boyd’s story had Mike Sindelar, a San Juan County sheriff’s investigator, saying that allowing citizens to openly carry firearms in committee rooms, public galleries and hallways might actually make the Capitol safer.

“We feel that armed citizens possibly are part of the security profile,” Sindelar said.

It wasn’t readily clear to me who “we” are, and I had more questions:

  • Wouldn’t armed citizens also be part of the scary profile?
  • Might New Mexico finally soar to the top of a national ranking as most heavily armed capitol?
  • Would a gun restriction on the House side of the Capitol and none on the Senate side add new meaning to seeking concurrence?
  • More seriously, has anyone asked whether the hundreds of people who actually work in our Capitol think they would be safer with members of the public carrying firearms?

The debate is still open on restricting firearms in the Capitol and we will report more testimony as it comes.

Meanwhile, I am very grateful for the stepped up State Police presence in the New Mexico Capitol in recent years. But I suspect a surprising number of other people around the building, elected and otherwise, already are packing firearms, too.

And I admit the specter of even more is making me a little jumpy.

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