An ordinance to ban firearms and select other weapons in city buildings goes to to the full Common Council next week after passing the committee level on Tuesday.
On a 6-2 vote, the Community Development Committee recommended approval of the ban, even though most members acknowledged that the ban was not enforceable if anyone should choose to enter a building with a concealed weapon.
To set the stage, City Attorney Alan Kesner said the measure is a continuation of the status quo, since concealed weapons have been banned everywhere and will continue to be so until the new state law permitting them takes effect Nov. 1.
Kesner noted, though, that open carrying of weapons was not previously banned, and this ordinance bar weapons regardless of whether they are concealed.
"The question before you is whether to allow licensed individuals to carry guns into city buildings," Kesner said. "We're just focusing on weapons, not the manner of carrying them."
The committee turned next to Police Chief Barry Weber, who two weeks ago did not commit himself for or against the ordinance. This time, he made it clear that he did not feel that the posting of signs or even the presence of police officers would deter those who wanted to bring guns to public places, and therefore law-abiding citizens would be at a disadvantage.
"I don't think we need to do more than the law already allows," Weber said. "There is a tendency to over-legislate things. The law-abiding citizens, if they want to carry guns, are not the ones I'm concerned about. It's those who aren't law-abiding."
Tosa resident Nick Schweitzer echoed that, saying, "We don't know and we never will know who has a gun" in the absence of any kind of security measures such as metal detectors at every door of every city building.
But many other residents took the opposite view, that even if the law were difficult to enforce, it should still be put in place because of what it stood for.
"It's a sad and strange night when we would even consider allowing guns into our city buildings," said Alan Nichols. He was echoed by a number of others, including Carol Wehrley, who works at the . She asked council members to pass the ordinance at least in the hope that signs might deter someone from bringing a weapon into the Muellner Building.
A lot of the debate revolved around fear. The fear, on one hand, that someone would enter or another city building with a weapon and do great harm, and the fear that if law-abiding citizens were not armed to protect others, a person with criminal intent had little to prevent him from inflicting harm.
"Fear — I kind of have to put that aside, from both sides," said Ald. Eric Meaux. "We're splitting hairs. Under another state law, we prohibit weapons in school buildings. This law would allow them, but where? In a building where children come every day, to the ?
"We set the standards, we set the expectations."
Ald. Bobby Pantuso put it all into perspective for each side of the argument.
"This is the dumbest thing we've ever debated," he said. "Side one is going to have to convince me that anyone should ever have a reason to carry a gun into City Hall.
"Side two is going to have to convince me that a sign is going to deter anyone."
In the end, Pantuso said, the whole thing was perhaps no more than symbolic, but: You shouldn't, you really ought not to, bring a gun into a public building, he said, therefore the city should ban the practice, and should post signs saying you can't, whether it can actually stop you or not.