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False Alarm: Rep. Rhoden Hits Panic Button to Push Guns-in-Capitol Bill

While chairing House State Affairs this morning, Representative Larry Rhoden (R-29/Union Center) hit the literal panic button. In the midst of debate on House Bill 1156, a bill to allow individuals with enhanced permits to carry concealed firearms in the Capitol, Chairman Rhoden activated whatever alarm legislators have available in the committee rooms:

Rep. Larry Rhoden
Good thing we dropped the transgender bathroom bill; Larry probably would have organized a panty raid.

A South Dakota lawmaker whose committee was considering a bill to allow concealed guns in the Capitol says he hit a panic button during debate just to see how quickly authorities could respond.

Republican Rep. Larry Rhoden, who supports the legislation, said Monday the response time was about five minutes – longer than he’d thought it would be [“South Dakota Lawmaker Hits Panic Button to Test Security,” AP via KSFY, 2017.02.06].

Two problems here:

  1. False reporting to authorities is a Class 1 misdemeanor, worth up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
  2. Rhoden predicated his conclusion, that law enforcement took longer than he thought they would, on the false assumption that the South Dakota Highway Patrol would fall for his trick. The Highway Patrol did not:

The South Dakota Highway Patrol superintendent says authorities were properly notified seconds after a lawmaker whose committee was considering a bill to allow concealed guns in the Capitol hit a panic button to test the response time.

Superintendent Col. Craig Price said Monday that after the notification, a supervisor looked at the video monitoring system and saw that an armed plainclothes state trooper was already in the room. He says a uniformed officer responded to verify there was no emergency [AP, 2017.02.06].

So not only did Chairman Rhoden break the law for the sake of political theater, but he also knocked a hole in the thesis that we need civilians prancing around the Capitol with guns. Highway Patrol had a trooper in the room who probably would have drawn a bead on a real troublemaker before Chairman Rhoden could find his button. In today’s illegal drill, Highway Patrol was able to assess almost immediately that there was no need to mobilize deadly force.

I won’t risk a Class 1 misdemeanor, but I’ll ask you to consider this hypothetical: suppose Chairman Rhoden or another proponent of HB 1156 had decided to test law enforcement’s response by shouting “Gun!” instead of hitting the panic button. Suppose some concealed-carrier had been in the committee room and, eager to put his pistol to use, had drawn and whirled around looking for the fake threat. Suppose that plainclothes trooper sees that gun. Imagine all that can go wrong in those two seconds.

Alas, the committee, falsely alarmed on multiple levels, voted 10–3 to advance HB 1156 to the House.


  1. Bob Newland 2017-02-06 18:12

    Last time I was in the capitol during session, there was nothing which prevented me from carrying a firearm into any room in the building, should I have decided to do so.

    Therefore, there is nothing that this bill will do to protect or offend the safety of anyone in the capitol.

  2. Robin Friday 2017-02-06 18:54

    Sad to say, our SD legislature is the laughing stock of the nation. Almost as laughable as DJT and Co.

  3. jerry 2017-02-06 19:54

    Larry Rodent gets elected by those who are equally up to the task of watching the moon eat the sun on any given evening sky, dumber than a box of hammers. Lucky that HP undercover person did not put a hole in his sorry arse.

  4. scott 2017-02-06 19:58

    So legislators think they need guns to protect themselves. What about all the other people in the capital that work their full time? I guess all that matters again is the legislators get their way.

  5. Roger Cornelius 2017-02-06 20:38

    Ah hell! Let them all have as many guns as they want in the capitol and instead of voting on any law they can just shoot it out.

  6. scott 2017-02-06 21:30

    So Rhoden did not know there was a SDHP officer in the audience. Lets just say Rhoden had a gun and someone tried something in the audience. Would Rhoden panic and pull a gun and shoot the plain clothes SDHP officer because he saw the SDHP officer had a gun? Rhoden couldn’t tell the good guys on a typical day, how could he determine the bad guys in a panic situation?

    I’m not against people carrying guns, but very few people have the ability to stay calm in stressful situations. What I would expect is that innocent people would be hurt if legislators were allowed to bring guns into the capital.\\

    If Rhoden really wants to increase capital security, find more money to increase security ever day at the capital. He could start by reducing the number of days of session and these waste of time bills.

  7. Jana 2017-02-06 21:34

    I think Rhoden and the GOP gang that can’t shoot straight want to carry to protect themselves from their paranoia of the backlash from their arrogance and disdain for the citizens of South Dakota.

  8. Chip 2017-02-06 23:22

    Sheer f—–g stupidity. What a waste. What a slap in the face to hard working local law enforcement in Pierre. He disrespected the full spectrum emergency personnel across the state of South Dakota, from policeman to ambulance drivers. Then that bunch of idiots voted for it anyways. Congratulations. Then it turns out there were armed people there anyways?? I couldn’t show my face in public after that charade.

  9. Jenny 2017-02-07 06:20

    I’m guessing Rhoden wanted to feel extra manly yesterday. A man in South Dakota has to have a gun to be proven man, after all.
    (Meanwhile the police department in Pierre just want things to calm back down at the Capital and are looking forward to the end of the session.)

  10. Jenny 2017-02-07 06:22

    I’m guessing Rhoden wanted to feel extra manly yesterday. A man in South Dakota has to have a gun to be proven man, after all.
    (Meanwhile the police department in Pierre just want things to calm back down at the Capital and are looking forward to the end of the session.)

  11. Dana P 2017-02-07 07:35

    Reckless. Careless. Irresponsible. Unprofessional. Many other descriptions could fit here.

    If they WON’T charge him with False Reporting, then he “should” face some sort of discipline via the legislature.

    Luckily (I use that term loosely) the “panic” was called off immediately. Otherwise, many troopers and other law enforcement would have been driving quickly to the scene. Putting many motorists in danger also. Ridiculous.

    When are South Dakota citizens going to hit the “panic” button and get all these yay-hoos out of office?

  12. Mark Winegar 2017-02-07 08:05

    Considering the behavior and alternate realities expressed by legislators during the HB 1096 hearings guns are one thing we surely don’t need in the Capitol.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-02-07 08:06

    IM 22/HB 1069 protestors can’t throw fake money or make inappropriate noises in the galleries to make their political points, but a legislator can hit a false alarm to make his political point? Disgusting.

  14. Darin Larson 2017-02-07 08:13

    So the response time was immediately since the officer was in the room at the time this stunt was pulled!

    If these legislators are so scared that they think HPD is not providing enough security then isn’t the logical answer to put in metal detectors and control access to the building? Instead of keeping amateur gun fighters with itchy trigger fingers out of the Capitol, the answer of these smart guys is to trust the guy who can draw his smoke wagon in the fastest manner. Let’s start the insanity!

  15. Moses6 2017-02-07 08:42

    I wonder if Rhoden thinks Ted Nugent is his hero.

  16. barry freed 2017-02-07 09:10

    When I saw my neighbor become a victim of home invasion in the middle of the day, I called 911 and it took Rapid City Police 30 minutes to arrive on scene, 6 blocks from headquarters. After 20 minutes on the phone, the Officer assigned came on the line and could be heard eating something.

    The home invader was arrested, not for the B&E, but for an outstanding warrant. Fortunately, no one was home when Police entered the house. The owners were never notified by Police of the incident.

    Cory, why do you not post “claimed” response times of our local Police Departments if you are going to condemn someone for examining their response times?

    Some think TV is an accurate portrayal of our World. A gun is fired, or someone is assaulted, and 3 seconds later we hear sirens. A few more seconds and the Police arrive en masse to save the day. That is nowhere near reality, and sometimes it’s guys like this, saving the Police:

  17. Jenny 2017-02-07 09:54

    If that is a true story, barry, then the RCPD is a very poorly run organization. Unless the police were on other calls it could maybe be justified.
    The RCPD should be questioned about this pathetic response time, but then this is SD and like everything else in the state, things like this never come out and SD folks don’t get upset too much. For you can’t be rude when it come to them thar police.

  18. Darin Larson 2017-02-07 10:10

    Right now we have SD HPD armed and often in the same room or adjacent room at the capitol. Some of the legislators don’t feel adequately protected, so instead of locking the doors and putting in metal detectors, they think the logical answer is to let strangers with guns into the capitol. Would you feel more secure if strangers with guns were scattered throughout the capitol?

  19. Porter Lansing 2017-02-07 10:23

    Republicans need to impress the teenaged girl staffers with how big their guns are? Well, boys … Here’s some sage advice from your “out of state” leader. lol

  20. Roger Cornelius 2017-02-07 11:39

    Where was Stace Nelson when all this was going on? Doesn’t he pack heat when in the capitol, he could of easily have responded.

  21. Roger Cornelius 2017-02-07 11:40

    Where was Stace Nelson when all this was going on? Doesn’t he pack heat when in the capitol, he could of easily have responded.

  22. Rorschach 2017-02-07 11:58

    Now that we know they have a video monitoring system at the capital, legislators will surely be more careful about where they make out with the interns and pages – and each other. But if they can find a place without video cameras … who’s the undercover HP trooper?

  23. Sharon S 2017-02-07 14:53

    Does anyone know to which law enforcement agency a criminal complaint can be filed re: this incident? I’m totally up for it.

  24. John W. 2017-02-07 16:47

    While not completely certain, I seem to think that any private citizen can file a criminal complaint with the appropriate states attorney in the county in which the violation took place. I’m not certain if the complainant must be able to demonstrate harm or injury as a result of the crime in order to establish standing. I went looking briefly in codified law and couldn’t find a specific law or precedent that would apply but, it is my thought that somebody needs to do some homework and at least visit with the Hughes County States Attorney about the violation. Apparently, there is little dispute over facts so it becomes a matter of whether a legislator may have some sort of immunity for misdemeanor violations while the legislature is in session. I seem to recall that they can not be cited for certain violations of the motor vehicle code when the legislature is in session but that recollection is predicated on statute that has either been repealed or amended. Either way, this is a serious enough offense that it should at least be addressed by a magistrate. If any other private citizen had done that, it is entirely likely they would be facing jail time. This behavior is actually more egregious that a high school kid pulling the fire alarm. Rhoden has been known to exalt his position indifferent to law and ethical behavior before and somebody needs to bring the haughty individual back to the reality of the public he feigns to serve. Not only do people like Rhoden think they are above the law but the seem to think they are empowered to cancel the will of the people with the stroke of a pen and strike of the gavel. This isn’t just corruption, it is just in your face violation of law and daring somebody to challenge his behavior. If it’s OK to force legislators out of their seats for having consensual sex with volunteers, it aught to be OK to prosecute them for blatant violation of statute law. File the complaint!

  25. Sharon S 2017-02-07 18:17

    Thanks, John! A friend with a good source of information said the Hughes Co. state’s attorney would be who to report it to, so that’s who I’ll call. DH called the 3 local news stations this morning to ask about it – they seemed pretty oblivious to it. I’m hoping to see something on the news addressing the issue.

  26. Porter Lansing 2017-02-07 18:56

    It’s been addressed by all the media outlets, Sharon. They’re going to start a new investigation on Hillary Clinton. :0)
    (don’t look under the rug)

  27. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-02-07 20:05

    Sharon, that boggles me that the media are oblivious. How does anyone, reporter or civilian, not recognize that setting off a false alarm is a crime? How does any good journalist not smell the chance for a story when we talk about a legislator breaking the law in the Capitol for political purposes?

  28. grudznick 2017-02-07 20:13

    Recall that many of these law enforcement types are probably Rhoden Rhangers from the other year, and figure he is gearing up for another big run. I still get communications from the Rhoden Rhangers so I know the chapters are still active.

  29. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-02-07 20:56

    Barry, this bill and Rhoden’s action have nothing to do with home invasions or police response time to crimes around the state. This bill and Rhoden’s irresponsible action deal strictly with conduct within the Capitol. Committing a crime to make a political point and carrying a gun are both unacceptable behaviors in our Temple of Democracy.

  30. grudznick 2017-02-07 21:00

    Mr. H, you should go to Pierre to testify on these bills and call out Mr. Rhoden as a criminal. Take a hatchet or splitting maul into the building with you, just to see if people are unnerved. It is probably not illegal to have a maul or maybe just an 8 lb. sledge in the capitol. But it would unnerve them all.

  31. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-02-07 21:29

    Unless there’s a bill pertaining to panic buttons and upping the penalty for false reporting, I’m afraid my commentary on Rep. Rhoden’s “test” would not be germane to any committee’s agenda.

    I hesitate to carry a mace or the BFH; I’d hate to get jostled in a crowd and damage all that lovely marble.

  32. Sharon S 2017-02-08 05:30

    What distresses me about the media coverage is that not a single one mentioned false reporting as a Class I misdemeanor (unless I missed something last night). I believe that the “immunity” for legislators only applies to them either being delayed in reaching the chamber for a vote or in interrupting their ability to vote in the moment, not to immunity from charge after the fact. (CAH probably more suited than I to answer that, though). I’ve got one more knowledgeable legal source looking into it, and I should know by tomorrow (Thursday) night.

  33. Bruce 2017-02-08 08:27

    What is the penalty being a dumba** for putting innocent people at risk for a political stunt?

  34. John W. 2017-02-08 18:01

    Cory: Reference your last paragraph…….. There is a common military and law enforcement term for what might happen. “Collateral Damage” Law Enforcement is trained heavily to avoid shooting innocents or harming property in the exercise of their duty……….. Not so for people packing heat in public with a concealed carry permit. Let’s just say that there was more than one person in the room carrying concealed heat and somebody pushed the panic button or yelled gun. LE is trained to quickly assess the totality of the environment, detect and assess the threat level, and respond accordingly, quite often not drawing a side arm unless the threat has a gun. Two other people present in the room with guns drawn seeking the threat source are as likely to turn on the plain clothed officer as they are on one another. You present the scenario that law enforcement fears the most. Being deprived of the split second ability to distinguish a bad guy with a gun and what is alleged as a good guy with a gun. A former West River legislator of my long acquaintance (I don’t suggest long agreement however) painted the picture differently a couple of years ago when the legislature was considering open carry in the legislature for so called self protection. (Also when Stace Nelson plopped his handgun and legislative pistol shooting trophy on his desk is the same type of reckless defiance as Rhoden) Mike said; “I don’t want to get shot by some legislator trying to neutralize a threat he can’t determine conclusively is a threat. When the shooting starts, “collateral damage” is imminent. And for the record, private citizens have no duty or responsibility to protect others in hostile situations in public places without LE and Judicial review. They do, however, enjoy the privilege and right to accomplish the same in the sanctity of their home without the same level of investigative review. As impulsive and theory driven as some of these legislators are, I’m confident they wouldn’t be any better with a gun than they are in promulgating reasonable and responsible law.

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