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Paul Helmke

Paul Helmke

Posted: August 13, 2009 06:41 PM

What does the National Rifle Association think about carrying loaded guns to "town hall" meetings, including presidential events? Do they think this would make us all safer?

Does their silence signal their consent?

At "town hall" meetings featuring members of Congress, and even the President of the United States, Americans have seen not only some heated exchanges with shouting and physical altercations, but also multiple examples of loaded firearms making their way into or near the debates. So far this month there have been reports of:

· A concealed weapon brought to a town hall in Memphis, Tennessee, hosted by Rep. Steve Cohen;

· A concealed weapon that fell out of its owner's holster at a "Congress on Your Corner" event in Sierra Vista, Arizona, featuring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords;

· A man openly carrying a semi-automatic handgun at a rally protesting President Obama's town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Tuesday;

· Another man in possession of a pocketknife who was arrested after sneaking past security at the president's Portsmouth event, was then found to have a concealed semi-automatic handgun in his car.

William Kostric, the man who openly carried his handgun at President Obama's Portsmouth event, held a sign that read, "IT IS TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY."

Kostric, who told Chris Matthews that he was not a violent man, said his sign referred to Thomas Jefferson's statement that, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Wonder who the "patriots" and the "tyrants" are in Kostric's world?

Speaking of disturbing signs, at a constituent event yesterday hosted by Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a man was reportedly detained after carrying a sign that read, "Death to Obama" and "Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids." The Secret Service is investigating the individual. There is no reporting (so far) that the man was carrying a gun.

As a mayor and candidate for office, I've been to a lot of heated and contentious public meetings and events -- including some where people were carrying guns. Those who carry guns to public forums have the potential to stifle debate as well as put others at risk of injury. And if some take to heart NRA boss Wayne LaPierre's statement that "the guys with the guns make the rules" (echoing Mao's statement that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun"), then we may be facing some real threats to our system of representative government.

The tense atmosphere surrounding the current "town hall" debates has all the earmarks of a tinderbox, and is exacerbated by the presence of loaded firearms. Encouraging gun owners to carry their weapons into these events -- much less to places where the president is expected to speak -- is an invitation to disaster.

The National Rifle Association is full of big talk about "gun rights."

Why don't they talk about gun responsibility and ask folks to leave their weapons at home before going to these public forums?

(Note to readers: This entry, along with past entries, has been co-posted on bradycampaign.org/blog and the Huffington Post.)