Columns » Max Brantley

Brantley: the fear factor at Arkansas Capitol

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Surely you've read the recent articles about research that indicates conservatives are, on average, more fearful than liberals.

A British study concluded that the right amygdala, the part of the brain that's active during periods of fear and anxiety, is larger among conservatives. Chris Mooney, the author of a book, "The Republican Brain," has been quoted as saying that this tendency leads people to cease to think rationally and react instinctively to protect themselves.

I couldn't help but think of this when I read that both legislators and the secretary of state's office are talking about stepping up security measures at the Arkansas Capitol.

Mooney, the author of that brain book, once said conservatism is "much more appealing to people who go through life sensitive and highly attuned to aversive or threatening aspects of their environments." Muslim presidents from Kenya, for example.

Come January, about two-thirds of the legislature and all seven of the constitutional officers will be Republican. Is it coincidence that fear of danger is heightened now?

I'm not prepared to psychoanalyze. But rational thought hasn't been a particular hallmark of Secretary of State Mark Martin, chief Capitol custodian. Martin was in office four years before getting outwardly worked up about security, but he's often absent from the Capitol and apparently deathly afraid of appearing in public or talking to the press. He got behind the Republican-passed voter ID bill, legislation based on the unfounded fear that vast numbers of impersonators were casting ballots. Perhaps it's fear of too many Democrats voting that explains why he's done so little to improve the state's deteriorating voting machines. Not that he's incapable of decisive action. Immediately after the election, his office fired three maintenance employees, including a plumber on the job for 14 years, for reasons unclear. Can't be too careful about restroom maintenance, I guess.

The Capitol security question is so sensitive that the secretary of state's office doesn't want to meet with legislators in public on the question, but to have round-robin one-on-one sessions instead. Does it mean more officers to add to the 22-man State Capitol police force (also augmented by private security hired by the legislature)? Does it mean closing the vehicle tunnel in front of the building? Does it mean some Capitol reconstruction to solve the dilemma that puts the main elevator before the security checkpoint? Is there, by the way, a credible reason for heightened concern at the Capitol in the first place? To date, rampaging motorcycles and a dome-smudging rocket — features in a couple of film productions encouraged by former Secretary of State Bill McCuen — have been the major blemishes on the building.

I have an idea. Why not have legislators put their amygdalas where their mouths are? Guns are nominally banned from the Capitol. A debate rages on whether Arkansas now has an open carry law through legislative trickery in 2013. Let's finish the job.

Clarify that open carry is the law of the land. And be sure that it is legal in every public building, from city hall to courthouse to state Capitol. That's what the Second Amendment says, right? The right to bear arms "shall not be infringed."

The pro-gun forces won election after election this year in part by saying guns make us safer. With open carry — for legislators and visitors alike — the state ought to be able to save a lot of money by reducing the Capitol police force and extra security. We won't need them anymore.

Right?

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