An absolutely true news item: Having passed a law allowing gun owners to bring their weapons inside the state Capitol building, the Florida Senate has hastily installed panic buttons on the office phone of every senator and staff member.
This is an open letter from concerned members of the Florida House of Representatives to the Sergeant of Arms:
We couldn’t help but notice that our colleagues in the Senate were provided with enhanced security measures as a result of our controversial — but patriotic! — decision to allow licensed owners of concealed weapons to carry their loaded guns through the corridors of the Capitol.
As everybody knows, the legislation wasn’t our idea. It was written by lobbyists for the National Rifle Association, a fine organization that isn’t nearly as crazed and paranoid as some people make it out to be. Also, the NRA contributes generously to most of our political campaigns, which is why we blindly do whatever it tells us to do.
Up until a few months ago, law-enforcement officers asked all pistol-packing constituents to leave their weapons in a lock box before entering the Capitol. That system worked pretty darn well, in our humble opinion, but then we learned of the NRA’s desire to further broaden the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.
So we went ahead and passed this new law that prevents local governments from regulating firearms, except in a few places where the state specifically says guns don’t belong — hospitals, schools and courthouses.
We’d be fibbing if we said every single member of the House actually read this bill and comprehended all its ramifications. Basically, we took the NRA’s word that it was no biggie. Ever since October 1, anybody with a concealed-weapons permit can bring their favorite pistol to beaches, parks, even public libraries. Most legislators weren’t too worried because, seriously, who the heck still goes to a library? Not us!
Beaches didn’t seem like a problem area, either. Everybody’s wearing bathing suits, so where would you even conceal a weapon? If some guy’s got a .357 sticking out of his Speedo, little kids should have enough common sense not to mess with his sand castle. Right?
Then we come to find out that the new law also allows loaded handguns inside government buildings such as school board headquarters, city halls, county halls and even the venerable state Capitol here in Tallahassee, where we the undersigned happened to work. Bearing in mind that citizens occasionally get angry at their politicians, and also bearing in mind that even a normally sober firearms owner can have a bad day, the NRA kindly allowed us to bar gun toters from the legislative chambers and committee rooms, where we conduct the important business of selling out to special interests.
However, the law doesn’t prevent armed voters from freely walking the hallways of the Capitol, or visiting the offices of we the undersigned. Consequently, we were intrigued by media reports about the so-called panic buttons that have been given to members of the Senate, even to the Democrats who voted against the darn law. Not that we have an inferiority complex, but we who serve in the House are curious to know why our phones weren’t also equipped with emergency devices.
It’s true that there are only 40 state senators while there are 120 representatives. And it’s also true that Florida is in a severe budget crisis, and that government needs to shave expenses wherever possible.
But, seriously, how much money can these stupid little gizmos possibly cost? Don’t we have any pull at Radio Shack?
After consulting the House leadership, we’ve decided to the take the high road and assume that the absence of panic buttons isn’t a snub, but rather the result of clerical oversight or perhaps assembly-line problems at the panic-button factory in Taiwan. This temporary disparity in the level of safety precautions doesn’t mean that the life of a House member is somehow less valued than that of a senator. In truth, all of us in the legislative branch stand equal in the eyes of those who are seeking to buy our favor.
Therefore, as Sergeant of Arms, you are hereby instructed to promptly obtain and install the proper quantity of panic buttons in the offices of the House of Representatives. Said buttons should be connected to an emergency command center, and should ring at an ear-splitting pitch when activated by the user.
Upon hearing such an alarm, Capitol police should assume that a House member is facing a gun-wielding Floridian who is disgruntled, deranged or possibly both. At this point, Second Amendment concerns should be set aside and all diligent efforts should be aimed at stopping this nut job by whatever means necessary (and we’re not talking about Tasering his butt, OK?).
Also, we wish to formally inquire about the availability of body armor. Does it come with pockets?
(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)
(c) 2011, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.