Tension was high in Congress in the months before the Civil War when an observer wryly noted that the only members not carrying a pistol were carrying two pistols. Perhaps high tension explains why Montana State Sen. Verdell Jackson, R- Kalispell, has introduced legislation to allow Montana lawmakers to carry concealed weapons on the floors of the state House and Senate.
Especially because now is an angry time, is any useful purpose served by our lawmakers packing heat? As a way of punctuating a point of logic in spirited debate, couldn't they get by with just a good old-fashioned punch in the nose?
I own 18 handguns, rifles and shotguns. I'm a longtime, dues-paying member of the National Rifle Association. In recent years I've killed both deer and antelope. I grew up with guns, and I'm proudly steeped in the Montana gun culture. Furthermore, I believe the Second Amendment is in the Constitution to provide the last defense of a free people against a tyrannical government.
That said, I think there are limits. Either for self defense or against a tyrannical government, why do we need or even want 30-shot handguns? The extended clip makes such a weapon totally impractical for those with carry permits. Getting such a clumsy weapon out of the bedside drawer to stop an intruder in the middle of the night may be fatally cumbersome.
If the government ever comes to get our guns, I'll be defending mine at gunpoint. But I sure won't be doing it with a 30-shot pistol. Neither will anybody else who is serious about power and accuracy.
Firing many times in a hurry at close range is what semi-automatic handguns do best. That is why they are favored by mass murderers. The casualty toll of 20 in the recent tragedy in Tucson would likely have been far higher if a bystander had not stopped it by grabbing the shooter's hand as he was reaching into his pocket to reload another 30-shot clip. His rampage would have topped out at 10, however, if the killer had been limited to a standard 10-shot capacity magazine.
Purists will argue that any infringement on firearms is unconstitutional. Legislation passed in the 2009 Montana Legislature to test that interpretation is now in the federal courts. But that aside, clips aren't guns and so have no constitutional protection.
There are also those who will argue that it is better policy to keep firearms out of the hands of the criminally insane than to restrict firearm use for everybody. Certainly every effort should be made to accomplish that. The trouble is that criminals, even insane ones, will sometimes manage to get guns. But if extended clips aren't available to them they will at least be limited in their mayhem.
As far as everybody else is concerned, an armed citizen with a 10-shot magazine, aiming carefully so not to harm others, could put a maniac down with a round or two, if necessary, before the arrival of the police.
Americans have the right to be armed, and that is why our freedom is more secure than that of others in other countries. While Congress certainly has more important things to do, like directly dealing with the national debt, it should still act to limit magazines for handguns to a maximum of 10 rounds. I doubt if it will, but it should.
The Democrats and Republicans in the Montana Legislature won't get more done at the point of a gun, but don't be surprised if they make it legal to give it a try.
Bob Brown is retired in Whitefish after careers in teaching and politics, including serving as Montana Senate president and secretary of state.