No More Guns at Town Hall Meetings

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Pocono Record
    Rockne Newell has been indentified as the alleged Ross Township Building shooter. Here he is seen in an earlier photo supplied by the Pocono Record.

    A law banning guns in municipal government meetings or buildings might not have prevented the tragedy in Ross Township, Monroe County - where a man who had a long-running property dispute with township officials allegedly killed three people who were attending a supervisors meeting.

    For one thing, the initial attack, according to police, came from outside the building. Rockne Newell, 59, allegedly fired shots that ripped through a wall of the building into the meeting room. In a nation (and state) with so many guns and other weapons available, there is no way to fully secure every municipal facility from the outside - or even from the inside.

    But that doesn't mean we shouldn't make reasonable efforts to secure such facilities for the protection of public servants and citizens.

    And prohibiting firearms in such meetings would be a reasonable measure.

    As it stands now, state law appears to forbid such municipal gun bans. That was the advice from solicitors in two recent local cases.

    In 2011, then York City Council member Toni Smith discussed the idea of banning guns in council meetings. A group of gun owners responded by attending a meeting with their weapons. No ban was enacted, however, because city solicitor Don Hoyt said state law forbids such rules.

    More recently, Stewartstown officials rescinded a rule forbidding firearms at council meetings after they were challenged by members of the local Libertarian Party. A news story about that incident quoted a Widener University law professor who concurred with Hoyt's interpretation of the law.

    Interesting.

    Let's step back and look at the big picture here:

    You can't walk into the U.S. Capitol packing heat.

    You can't bring your pistol into the state Capitol either.

    Nor will you likely make it past security at the York County Courthouse with a weapon.

    So ... members of Congress, the state Legislature and court officials are protected at work from weaponized whackos, but elected officials at the lowest, most unsung and often unpaid rungs of our democracy are forbidden by Pennsylvania law to enact reasonable protections?

    Such hypocrisy is appalling.

    Yes, we know the Second Amendment and our state Constitution protect citizens' rights to gun ownership. But those rights are not absolute. They can be subject to reasonable restrictions (forbidding felons from owning guns, etc.), as are First Amendment rights (defamation, etc.).

    And there's a reason we don't allow civilians to carry guns in courtrooms or Capitol buildings.

    It's because the issues at hand in those places can be volatile and can result in tragedy when a previously ``law-abiding gun owner'' snaps and starts shooting.

    Municipal meetings in some parts of York County have seen such volatility - West York, for instance, where last week council members were cussing each other out at the table. York City Council meetings have been calm the last couple of years, but there have been times in the recent past when that was not the case. Remember the restroom choking incident?

    Adding guns to situations where people are tense, angry and apt to react violently to adverse decisions by governing bodies is a recipe for disaster.

    And, of course, it doesn't help that we have a congressman who once seemed to sanction such violent reactions against officials by saying that people need guns to protect themselves from an overbearing government.

    The incident in Ross Township should prompt U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, to rethink and recant such irresponsible rhetoric.

    And it certainly ought to prompt his former colleagues in the state General Assembly to allow municipalities to ban guns from their public meetings.
     
     

     


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