In floor speeches, lawmakers talk about their guns


During debate on the Senate floor over the Compromise of 1850, Henry Foote of MIssissippi pulled out a pistol and waved it around, threatening another senator, Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Lawmakers are no longer allowed to bring guns on the floor, but plenty own them, as a survey of Congress by USA Today shows. And they are of course allowed to talk about their guns. In fact, they talk about them in speeches on the floors of the House and Senate, according to a search of Capitol Words.

Interestingly, many of the lawmakers often pull out their gun toting credentials during congressional debates when speaking out in favor of gun control. Indeed, the lawmakers who use the word "gun" the most tend to be Democrats who support gun control, led by Sen. Carl Levin, D., Mich., and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D., N.Y. 

MORE: For data on the gun debate, see the Sunlight Foundation's resource page.

In our search, we looked for phrases containing such words as "own" and "gun," but it is by no means exhaustive. Readers can conduct their own research on lawmakers rhetoric over firearms here, at Capitol Words.

And of course some strong champions of gun rights may talk up their gun ownership in other venues as well: in 1994, former Sen. Phil Gramm, R., Texas, famously told a National Rifle Association (NRA) convention, "I own more shotguns than I need, but not as many as I want." The senator's office decor included a Winchester rifle and a Civil War pistol. And a photo of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R., Utah, is featured on the web page of North American Arms, a Utah-based firearms manufacturer, where he's seen reading a company catalog. 

Gun toting quotes:

Sen. Saxbly Chambliss, R., Ga.  "I have long been a strong supporter of the second amendment. There is nobody in this body who has a better voting record on the second amendment than I do. Probably nobody here owns as many guns as I own, but I use them for legal and lawful purposes. I will work with the National Rifle Association and any citizen group to make sure that neither this law nor any Federal law is misused to infringe on the second amendment rights of any law-abiding citizen. But this particular amendment would harm legitimate national security investigations." May 26, 2011, during debate over amendment, which he opposed, that would prohibit collection of certain firearm records under the Patriot Act. Sen. Chambliss has announced he's retiring at the end of this Congress.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D., Vt.  "I am a native Vermonter. I have lived there all my life. I find Vermonters do conduct themselves safely and responsibly. Similar to many Vermonters, I grew up with firearms. I have enormous respect and appreciation for the freedoms the second amendment protects. In fact, I own many firearms. Similar to other rights protected by our Bill of Rights, the second amendment right to keep and bear arms is one I cherish. Fortunately, I live in a rural area in Vermont. I can set up targets and use my backyard as an impromptu pistol range and often do." August 6, 2009, speaking out in favor of the nomination of Sonia Sontemayor to sit on the Supreme Court. Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Secondly, I asked Mr. Holder specifically a question about his views on the Second Amendment—because we do not have in Vermont the restrictive gun laws that the people in Oklahoma have supported or the restrictive gun laws the people of Texas or Pennsylvania have supported. We have less restrictive gun laws than any State in the Union.  I own many firearms myself. I asked Mr. Holder specifically if he would, in a State without restrictive gun laws, such as Vermont, seek to replace those State laws with more restrictive Federal gun laws similar to those of the many other States represented on the Judiciary Committee, and he said no." February 6, 2009, speaking about nomination of Eric Holder to head the Justice Department, which he favored.

"I think we ought to at least know what that is, going into people’s computers because the local investigator says, “I want to.” I am not sure if the authorities, under normal going into court, asking for a court order, having a hearing, can go into my computer; that is one thing. But if somebody goes out there, for example, and sees me having target practice outside my house—I have a pistol range out back of my house—and they say: I wonder how many guns he has; I want to go into his computer to find out just in case he has listed his ammunition purchases. Should they be allowed to? I would think some of those who are concerned about the rights of gun owners might be a little bit concerned about this provision. I am a gun owner. I am concerned." September 13, 2001, discussing budget for law enforcement following 9/11.

Rep. Mark Dayton, D., Minn. "I strongly support the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I am a gun owner myself and a hunter. This bill does not benefit gun owners or hunters, who are most of the NRA members. They are being used to give special favors and special treatment to someone’s special friends and someone’s big contributors." July 27, 2005, speaking out against legislation to give legal immunity to firearms manufacturers.

Former Sen. John Warner, R. Va. "As a gun-owner myself, I have long been a supporter of the Second Amendment. I remember well the day my father gave me my first gun, and I have spent most of my life around guns, both with antiques and in hunting." March 1, 2004, while speaking in favor of reauthorization of assault weapon ban. 

Sen. John McCain, R., Ariz. "I am a gun owner and I have attended many gun shows in my state of Arizona. More than most people, I know that the majority of gun show patrons and sellers are honest, law abiding citizens. But I also know that there is a sinister element that attends these shows and exploits this loophole." October 31, 2003, speaking in favor of legislation he co-sponsored to close the gun show loophole.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D., Fla. "I advocate a decent society. My strong opposition to H.R. 1036 does not reflect a broad opposition to gun ownershipI own a gun. I am for sensible gun laws that do not take away the legal rights of individuals to have guns for recreational purposes and personal protection. Gun ownership can further American values, but H.R. 1036, instead, usurps them." April 9, 2003, in opposition to legislation giving immunity to firearms manufacturers."  

Former Rep. Bart Stupak, D., Mich.  "Mr. Chairman, as my colleagues know, I am a former police officer, I am a member of the NRA , and I am a lifelong gun owner. My wife and my two sons own guns. We, Mr. Chairman, are responsible gun owners who have taken guns safety courses and educated our children about how to operate and respect firearms." June 17, 1999.