By Washington, D.C., standards it was cold that first day of March 1954. The sky was overcast with rain, a relatively strong southerly wind and the temperatures hung in the low to mid-50s.
The four arrived around noon at Union Station, having taken the train down that morning from New York. They ate lunch and then debated whether to complete their task or simply go back home. Three wanted to stop, but the fourth was adamant and said she would do it herself. She started walking up the hill to the Capitol and the three reluctantly followed.
They entered the House of Representatives, assured security they did not have cameras, and sat in the gallery above the floor. With about 240 members in the chamber, the debate over an immigration bill was vigorous.
The next day, the Washington Post reported the four suddenly stood up, the leader shouting, “viva Puerto Rico libre” and fired their pistols into the legislative body. Five members of Congress were hit, two critically, before the assailants were subdued.
This is important. The Puerto Rican nationalists were carrying one .38-caliber automatic handgun and three German Lugers. The total fire power was six rounds in the .38 and seven in each of the three Lugers. The number of shots fired by the four individuals was 30.
I thought of this incident when I read the Republican-led Iowa Legislature just voted in, and the governor signed, a law to make it easier to obtain handguns (called the Open Carry Law) and permit them in the Iowa State Capitol and all public buildings. Plus, if you are not a felon or a few other limited categories, the local sheriff is obligated to issue you a permit to carry a handgun.
Before we turn to a discussion of modern handguns, we need to consider the dimensions of the Iowa legislative chambers. The Senate is 58 feet long and 91 feet wide. The House is slightly larger, being 74 feet long and 91.4 feet wide. Between the two chambers is the rotunda, where visitors, lobbyists, sightseers, journalists and many others gather. Not infrequently 200 to 400 people will be present there when the Legislature is in session.
A handgun today is not your grandfather’s six shooter. According to Lt. Aaron McClelland of the Waterloo Police Department, the modern gun of choice is a Glock in either the 9-millimeter or .40-caliber model. McClelland is not only in charge of the second shift, he also oversees the tactical unit, the bomb squad and firearms training. According to the lieutenant, the triggers on both pistols pull with remarkable ease and in the larger caliber gun, with reloading, it is possible to fire up to 46 rounds in 30 seconds.
Remember the dimensions of the legislative chambers, in yards the Senate is 30 yards long and the House is about 35 yards. The Glock, with an experienced hand, can hit a target at 50 yards and kill out to 100. Further, the weapon can be loaded with hollow point bullets, which don’t go through a body, but mushroom outwards for maximum damage to vital organs. This means in a half a minute, 46 rounds by one or 92 rounds by two can kill anyone hit in a vital spot all the way to the back of the chambers and beyond.
Now Congress can make no law abridging freedom of speech. But there is an exception when the speech presents what is termed “a clear and present danger.” The old example is you cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
My question is this: Shouldn’t there be some limitation on the Second Amendment?
The danger is not just a foreign terrorist but an ordinary American citizen, a taxpayer, someone who feels strongly they have been wronged and the only solution in their tormented mind is an act of maximum violence.
I do not feel it necessary to learn again the lessons of the incidents in Maquoketa or Mount Pleasant.
Change the law.