By Representative Christine Sinicki
Wisconsin 20th Assembly District
I can’t help believing there’s more than meets the eye to the Republicans’ new restrictions on what citizens can and can’t do or have in the Assembly galleries. Some of the new rules make sense because respectful behavior in the galleries is necessary for floor debate. But there’s something else going on behind all these new rules, rules, rules. Last night it hit me what that is, while watching a program about bullying in schools. I realized, they’re scared. Just like kids who bluster and terrorize, Assembly Republicans actually are scared behind the blustery face of their obligatory 1000% pro-gun agenda.
It’s a paradox, given all the Republican boasting about how great it is that they allow guns anywhere in state Capitol (except in offices with “No Gun” signs). In the Assembly, Republicans could have, but refused, to prohibit guns in our galleries, located above the floor, from where members of the public view the proceedings.
Even though they’re the ones refusing to prohibit guns up there, it makes sense they’re nervous anyway. Who can feel totally comfortable down there on the floor waiting like sitting ducks for some angry citizen in the gallery who decides to use their gun? We all should be worried! Honestly, I have to block thinking about it while I’m on the floor, otherwise it’s much too anxiety producing.
This is especially true since Republican leadership changed the gallery where the public is permitted to sit. Before the concealed carry law passed, the public sat in the gallery extending over the Republicans’ seats on the floor. Now, the gallery that’s open is on the opposite side of the chambers. From this vantage point, visitors see more Democrats than Republicans.
Our state Senators, on the other hand, acted like normal people when faced with the potential for gun threats from the galleries. They prohibited guns in the Senate galleries, end of discussion. It’s the Assembly Republicans who have painted themselves into a corner. Now they have to contort themselves to get around what they well know could be a dangerous situation someday.
But instead of backtracking like sane people would and prohibiting guns in the Assembly’s galleries, Assembly leadership is going forward with many extra rules to reduce the chances that guns could be carried into the galleries and have restricted everybody else’s rights In the process. Now they prohibit just about everything an individual could take into the gallery with them including backpacks, messenger bags, and large purses. I suppose this way it’s unlikely anyone could smuggle a large weapon into the gallery—a sawed-off shotgun, an extra-large handgun, ammunition clips. (They have prohibited not only all electronic devices but also paper: books, writing paper, magazines, newspapers, and yes, even coloring books. Last session a family was actually removed from an Assembly gallery because their child was coloring while her parents watched the proceedings.)
So, in the name of guaranteeing some people their rights (to carry a gun), yet trying to protect themselves from those same people, Assembly Republicans have restricted other citizens’ rights to carry their everyday possessions. In this convoluted situation, Republicans have ended up discriminating against non-gun owners, who simply want to assemble peacefully to exercise their right to watch their state government in action.
Of course, Republicans have been afraid of something else, too, since their misbehavior on the floor last session. They’re still afraid of basic public scrutiny. Visitors can see much more floor activity in person from the gallery, than they could watching Wisconsin Eye. (WiscEye is wonderful but must abide by restrictions on when they film legislators during floor session.)
I believe Assembly Republicans should rescind permission to carry guns in the galleries. However, their new gallery rules indicate they are moving in the opposite direction. From now on citizens could wait hours in the gallery without even a newspaper to read, much less an iPhone to read it on. And heaven forbid they bring their kids. Kids might want to bring crayons and paper, and those dangerous ‘weapons’ are not allowed.