Mark Peterson: Legislative debates locked and loaded

07/20/2014 12:00 AM

07/18/2014 5:36 PM

In late June, House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, managed artlessly to express a set of viewpoints concerning the First and Second amendments, feminism, the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and representative democracy that ought to make Kansans scratch their heads.

The Legislative Coordinating Council had just allowed unrestricted concealed carry of firearms by individuals possessing permits inside the state Capitol. Merrick explained the action by commenting that the presence of many, mostly female, red-shirted members of the teacher’s union inside the Capitol had made him apprehensive after the House had passed school-finance legislation.

Now, well-armed citizens can provide peace of mind for leaders, like Merrick, concerned “with people being here” who are antagonistic to majority policy views.

To his staff’s credit, Merrick’s implied fear of schoolteachers was quickly, if ineptly, recanted with a statement to the effect that he was really talking about British Redcoats and Revolutionary-era matters concerning the usefulness of a well-armed populace.

The speaker’s concerns over the hostility of a crowd of teachers has got to raise an eyebrow. It is remotely possible that in this liberated age a warrior-teacher might be prepared to assault him – unlikely, but possible. Therefore, it is also possible that the presence of weapons in the hands of sworn police officers might be insufficient to the task, if an assault occurred. Now for Merrick and others, things will be different in the next term.

The decision to add this expanded civil liberty to the meaning of representative democracy is innovative. In introductory courses I teach, I note that politics is two things: It’s a way to determine who gets what, when and how when the open market either fails or the people decide that the market is not best for allocating a particular scarce resource; and it is warfare without the weapons, enabling victory in public disputes, but in ways that assure that an issue can always be re-debated if sufficient political forces are willing.

Admittedly these are defining statements that work best, if not universally, in established representative democracies. Generally, however, the introduction of views backed up by a threat of force as the alternative is seen as a failure in democratic politics.

Here in Kansas, however, we have discovered something new under the sun. The new thing is the security and calm that come from knowing that under the Capitol dome, anybody could, at any moment, haul out his or her “Peacemaker” to cool hot tempers and relieve anxiety among the elected.

In fact, it is quite possible that those who are passionate about their positions may have to seriously reconsider expressing themselves at all.

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