In the heat of legislative debates at the Capitol, Missouri lawmakers can sometimes get quite silly, but a joke about firearms yesterday was not received so warmly by some Democrats that favor gun control.
At the closing of a debate around a bill regarding sheriffs, Caleb Jones, a Republican representative in support of the measure said, "This is an important bill for those individuals who risk their lives to protect us."
Then, referencing a group of sheriffs in attendance, he added, "There are a few of them over on my left and your right, Mr. Speaker. They are all armed. I urge the body to support this bill."
Laughter erupted -- but a few Democrats were less than pleased. And one of them tells Daily RFT that the sheriffs' attendance in the first place was a direct violation of House rules. We've got audio of the exchange below.
"Everyone felt intimidated," Stacey Newman, a Democratic state representative and one of the most vocal gun control proponents in the legislature, tells Daily RFT, "particularly, over a sheriff's bill that had firearm amendments."
At the least, it's a sign that the debates around gun measures have gotten particularly tense. In the Senate and the House, there have been around two dozen pro-gun bills introduced -- many of which have advanced through the process. A total of about three gun control bills -- efforts aimed at reducing gun violence through stricter policies -- have gone nowhere.
Newman says that there were more than twenty sheriffs in attendance for this bill (which covers a range of sheriffs' issues and isn't focused on guns) -- and that their presence was a violation of House rule 115. That rule in question says that individuals who aren't official lawmakers or registered lobbyists cannot enter the lower gallery of the House in support or in opposition to a bill before the legislature.
"We have armed sheriffs...staring at us while we voted on a bill for sheriffs?" Newman says. "It was pretty much in your face.... What is the point of having House rules if you don't follow them?"She fired off these tweets on the incident.
Sheriffs lined GOP side gallery, armed, during passage of SB42 re Sheriffs - which they lobbied for. Violation of MO House rules.#moleg— Rep. Stacey Newman (@staceynewman) May 8, 2013
Joking about armed sheriffs lining MO House side gallery during Sheriffs Bill vote - is offensive , besides against House rules.#moleg— Rep. Stacey Newman (@staceynewman) May 8, 2013
A House spokesman tells us that he was not in the chamber when it happened so couldn't comment. But he did offer us audio of Jones' closing remark as well as audio of Representative Rory Ellinger, a Democrat who proposed an assault rifle ban, expressing his frustration with the comment.
"It is with reluctance that I say this," Ellinger said later in the session, "because I have worked with the sheriffs throughout my career. But to joke around and say that we're here and we're armed -- and I know no sheriff had any intention of that.... In a democracy, we do not make those kinds of jokes."
House Speaker Tim Jones at that point interrupted Ellinger, saying he had not been recognized for "personal privilege" to speak on the matter. He was unable to comment further.
Kudos to Rep Ellinger for contesting comment on House Floor :"Vote for Sheriff's bill because they are all here and they are armed." #SB42— Rep. Stacey Newman (@staceynewman) May 8, 2013
Caleb Jones did not respond to our requests for comment yesterday.
Here's the audio, courtesy of the House: