WASHINGTON--Isn't it time to dismantle the metal detectors, send the guards at the doors away, and allow Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights by being free to carry their firearms into the nation's Capitol building?
I've been studying the deep thoughts of senators who regularly express their undying loyalty to the National Rifle Association and have decided that they should practice what they preach. They tell us that the best defense against crime is an armed citizenry and that laws restricting guns do nothing to stop violence.
If they believe that, why don't they live by it?
Why would freedom-loving lawmakers want to hide behind guards and metal detectors? Shouldn't NRA members be outraged that Second Amendment rights mean nothing in the very seat of our democracy?
Congress seems to think that gun restrictions are for wimps. It voted earlier this year to allow people to bring their weapons into national parks, and pro-gun legislators have pushed for the right to carry in taverns, colleges and workplaces. Shouldn't Congress set an example in its own workplace?
So why not let Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., pack the weapon of his choice on the Senate floor? Thune is the author of an amendment that would have allowed gun owners who had valid permits to carry concealed weapons into any state, even states with more restrictive gun laws. The amendment got 58 votes last week, two short of the 60 it needed to pass.
Judging by what Thune said in defense of his amendment, he'd clearly feel safer if everyone in the Capitol could carry a gun.
"Law-abiding individuals have the right to self-defense, especially because the Supreme Court has consistently found that police have no constitutional obligation to protect individuals from other individuals," he said. I guess Thune doesn't think those guards and the Capitol Police have any obligation to protect him.
He went on: "The benefits of conceal and carry extend to more than just the individuals who actually carry the firearms. Since criminals are unable to tell who is and who is not carrying a firearm just by looking at a potential victim, they are less likely to commit a crime when they fear they may come in direct contact with an individual who is armed."
In other words, keeping guns out of the Capitol makes all our elected officials far less safe. If just a few senators had weapons, the criminals wouldn't know which ones were armed, and all senators would be safer, right? Isn't that better than highly intrusive gun control--i.e., keeping people with guns out of the Capitol in the first place?
"Additionally," Thune said helpfully, "research shows that when unrestricted conceal and carry laws are passed, not only does it benefit those who are armed, but it also benefits others around them such as children."
This is a fantastic opportunity. Arming all our legislators would make it safer for children, so senators could feel much more secure bringing their kids into the Capitol. This would promote family values and might even reduce the number of highly publicized extramarital affairs.
During the debate, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., quoted a constituent who told him: "When my family and I go out at night, it makes me feel safer just knowing I am able to have my concealed weapon."
Why shouldn't Vitter feel equally safe in the Capitol? Why should he have to go out on the streets to carry a gun?
The pro-gun folks love their studies. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., offered this one: "A study for the Department of Justice found 40 percent of felons had not committed certain crimes because they feared the potential victims would be armed."
That doesn't tell us much about the other 60 percent, but what the heck? If it's good enough for Barrasso, let the good senator introduce the amendment to allow concealed carry in the Capitol.
Barrasso already dislikes the District of Columbia's tough restrictions on weapons. "The gun laws in the district outlaw law-abiding citizens from self-defense," he complained. So go for it, senator! Make our nation's Capitol building an island of firearms liberty in a sea of oppression.
Don't think this column is offered lightly. I want these guys to put up or shut up. If the NRA's servants in Congress don't take their arguments seriously enough to apply them to their own lives, maybe the rest of us should do more to stop them from imposing their nonsense on our country.
E.J. Dionne, Jr. is the author of the recently published Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right. He is a Washington Post columnist, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a professor at Georgetown University.
By E.J. Dionne, Jr.