Monday, August 4, 2003

Weapons popular with Ind. legislators

1 in 6 packing heat, some during sessions

The Associated Press

One in six Indiana lawmakers has a permit to carry a firearm, and some even pack their guns when they walk onto the floor of the Indiana House and Senate, The Journal Gazette reported Sunday.

These pistol-packing politicians have no problem with the availability of weapons in the Statehouse, and some even welcome the guns given the lax security at the state Capitol.

"If someone opens fire from the balcony, I want all the guns I can shooting back. Unless, of course, there are school kids up there," said Rep. Matthew Whetstone, whose small .22-caliber pistol weighs no more than a set of keys in his pants pocket.

Whetstone, R-Brownsburg, is one of 25 House and Senate members with valid permits to carry firearms, according to a review of the Indiana State Police firearms database by the Fort Wayne newspaper.

That is about 17 percent of the General Assembly, compared with about 7 percent of the eligible state population with permits.

Few lawmakers seem concerned that the firearms could be turned on each other despite history that shows political rivals around the nation - most recently in the New York City Hall shooting - have resorted to violence.

Six lawmakers acknowledged bringing their guns onto the House or Senate floor all the time or at least occasionally. Thirteen others said they did not, and several more did not return repeated phone calls or declined to discuss the specifics of when they carry a gun.

Of the 25 with permits, 10 are in the Senate and 15 are in the House. Eight are Democrats; 17 are Republicans. Of the six Republicans who say they bring guns to work at the Statehouse, three are in the Senate and three are in the House.

But not everyone appreciates the extra firepower on the floor.

"I think the state troopers are paid to protect us, and I think we can depend on them," said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary.

There is no law against having a gun in the Statehouse, said Lt. Scott Beamon of the Indiana State Police. There is a personnel policy prohibiting most state employees from carrying any type of weapon, but it does not apply to elected legislators.

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