Yale’s Joanne Freeman brings some historical perspective to the decision by some Congressman to wear guns in their home districts. She reminds us that is not new. Here is a taste:
THE announcement that Representatives Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Jason Chaffetz of Utah are planning to wear guns in their home districts has surprised many, but in fact the United States has had armed congressmen before. In the rough-and-tumble Congress of the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s, politicians regularly wore weapons on the House and Senate floors, and sometimes used them.
During one 1836 melee in the House, a witness observed representatives with “pistols in hand.” In a committee hearing that same year, one House member became so enraged at the testimony of a witness that he reached for his gun; when the terrified witness refused to return, he was brought before the House on a charge of contempt.
Perhaps most dramatic of all, during a debate in 1850, Senator Henry Foote of Mississippi pulled a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. (Someone eventually took it from his hand.) Foote had decided in advance that if he felt threatened, he would grab his gun and run for the aisle in the hope that stray shots wouldn’t hit bystanders…
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