Analysis: Bullying has no place in the Statehouse

By Lesley Weidenbener

Lesley Weidenbener, managing editor,

Lesley Weidenbener, managing editor,

INDIANAPOLIS – One thing I’ve always loved about covering the General Assembly is seeing people come to the Statehouse and make a case.

Commentary button in JPG - no shadowWhether they’re arguing for a bill or against a bill, telling their own stories or that of a loved one, or simply sharing a heart-felt belief, it’s great to see Hoosiers participating in their government.

Until it goes wrong.

Then, it’s just frustrating.

So was the case last week as one Hoosier tried to express her views on a controversial bill only to be browbeaten by a handful of lawmakers who didn’t like those views.

The legislature was days from wrapping up the 2014 session when Shannon Watts, who launched the national group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, came to the Statehouse to testify against a bill that would allow guns in locked cars in school parking lots.

It was a controversial proposal, especially among gun control and education groups. The proposal’s supporters say it just makes common sense. And I wrote recently that it seemed like an issue on which both sides could find a reasonable compromise.

But Republican lawmakers who backed the legislation – which has since been sent to Gov. Mike Pence to sign into law or to veto – were in no mood to talk compromise with Shannon Watts.

Watts filled her testimony with statistics and data, which she said lawmakers had asked her to do the last time she’d appeared before them. “Easy and unregulated access to guns must be eliminated, not encouraged,” Watts told them.

Republican legislators then picked apart her statistics. They were combative in their questions. They challenged her views.

One lawmaker – Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour – had done research on Watts’ background and ticked off her various jobs, even asking her one time to verify her maiden name so he could describe more of her career history.

His point? She had been a marketing specialist and therefore knew how to manipulate data.

It was all, well, uncomfortable. Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, even called it “bullying.”

The situation was particularly puzzling because Republicans who supported the legislation control the House and Senate – and therefore the conference committee that was working on the bill. That proposal was never in trouble in that committee. And it later passed the House and Senate easily.

There was no reason for those Republican lawmakers to be so defensive.

Of course, anyone who testifies before a legislative committee should be prepared for questions – and Watts certainly was. Lawmakers should absolutely interact with people about their research and opinions.

Still, there’s no reason to be aggressive and confrontational. A public hearing is just that – for the public. It’s the time for people who represent organizations or companies or themselves to come before the elected leaders who make our laws and try to influence the outcome.

People who exercise that civic duty in the respectful way that Watts did should never be treated poorly. Doing so is indeed bullying and it has no place at the Statehouse.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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13 Responses to Analysis: Bullying has no place in the Statehouse

  1. Thank you for speaking out about the nonsense that went on at this hearing. The bullying is unprofessional, un-American and is very transparently fueled by gun lobbyists. Thank you, Shannon Watts, for raising your voice on behalf of what most American families believe in: common sense. Guns at schools, near kids at schools, is not common sense. Anyone who thinks it is, is out of touch with reality (not the kind of citizen we want in possession of firearms).

    • Bullying has always been a constant in politics, at least since we started having career politicians. Its as American as a Winchester Rifle.

      Shannon Watts and her group are proven liars. Time after time they have quoted statistics that have absolutely no basis in fact, and when challenged on them they either get hysterical or go silent. I would not want someone of this character speaking for myself or my family.

  2. So Shannon Watts who had sold herself as a Stay-at-Home, Brady Bunch style Mom who suddenly developed a conscience and founded a “Grassroots” organization against Gun Violence (funded by billionare Michael Bloomberg) is asked about her long background as political and corporate PR which she had no disclosed even to her own people and she is suddenly being bullied?
    And God forbid anybody challenges her supposed statistics, that is almost as if she was assaulted!

    Or is it that the truth hurts her cause?

    • Miguel: your remarks are the same bullying tone as the Republican legislator. Asking about her maiden name and her job history was irrelevant to her testimony. It’s unfortunate that people like you and these shameful politicians cannot debate issues without becoming uncivil, particularly, when a witness comes well prepared and can refute the legislator’s lack of reasoning and facts. The fact is, this legislator (like you) is intimidated by educated women. There are more misogynists in the GOP and in this country than I ever thought possible. What is your problem with women, Miguel?

      • If someone told you that you were not allowed to attend your church, post your comments here and elsewhere as you please, or had to quarter soldiers in your own home at your own expense, would you not cry out? Would you not make as big a ruckus as possible? Would you not verbally take to task those who ordered these things?

        The fact is that Ms. Watts and her group are a part of Mr. Bloomberg’s gun control organization. The fact is that Ms. Watts and her organization make claims and quote “facts” that have no basis in fact. The fact is that both Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Watts ignore any fact that does not meet or enhance their gun control agenda. And make no mistake, that agenda is not about guns, it’s about control. Forcing (bullying) others into adhering to one’s own personal beliefs on a subject IS the very essence of control.

    • Couldn’t agree more. She is a proven liar and manipulator that deserves to be questioned.

  3. And maybe the legislators should provide info on who’s providing them with campaign funding if they are so interested in ‘background’ information.

  4. Kerry, Watts is a proven LIAR. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. And BTW, is it bullying when she tried to coerce private businesses into banning guns on their private property by threatening boycotts? Staples had her escorted off their property by security, she posted the picture of it as them “delivering a petition.” She lied. Recently she proclaimed victory in her quest to have Facebook ban the legal sale and advertisement of a legal product (firearms) from their domains. Facebook thanked her and said “No Thanks.” Bottom line, she LIED. She has chosen to ally herself with an organization that lists the Boston bombers as victims of gun violence (MAIG) to boost their numbers. That is manipulation of data, so it looks like the legislator was right on that one too.

    They list gang members killing each other in drug trade turf wars as victims of gun violence and children to boot. We may well be 3rd in the world in terms of firearms related murders, but if you take out the inner cities of Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Washington D.C. all of a sudden we’re 4th from the bottom. Sorry, it’s just a fact. In fact, it’s just the facts that shoot her down every single time. She says she “just wants to have the conversation” but banns anyone who disagrees with her from posting anything on their Facebook page or other sites because we continue to counter her emotional arguments with facts she cannot refute.

    I come from a generation where we had a marksmanship team in the High School I attended. I would ride the school bus to school with my rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition twice a week, put it in my wall locker, take it out and shoot it at practice, put it back, and then ride the bus home with it after school. During hunting seasons just about every single male student and at least a third of the female students had a rifle, shotgun, and plenty of ammo in the trunks of their cars as I did when I bought a car. The first rifle I purchased for myself was out of a Field and Stream magazine. I put $13.95 in the mail and 2 weeks later the mailman brought an M-1 Carbine to the front door and handed it to my mother with the rest of the mail. Talk about “easy and unrestricted access.” Oh, the horrors! A 14 year old boy buying an evil “assault rifle” with no background check!

    But we didn’t have students shooting each other down in the streets back then. Why you may ask? Because we had good old fashion conservative values grounded in our religious beliefs. You know, the beliefs that people like Watts doesn’t like. She is attacking the wrong side of the equation. Guns aren’t the problem, it is a form of thuggism that has taken the place of manhood in certain subcultures. Until you change that, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Besides, at a time in the USA where we have a record number of people owning a record number of guns, we have record low rates of accidental firearms deaths, firearms related murders, and firearms related crime per the FBI statistics. Sorry, there’s just some more of those pesky facts that the likes of Shannon Watts will never bring up.

  5. Some people won’t be happy until they’ve pushed you to the ground. What you have to do is have the courage to stand your ground and not give them the time of day. Hold on to your power and never give it away.If you are friends with a known bully and you do nothing to get your friend to STOP his/her toxic behavior—you’re suffering from the same fears, low-self esteem and intimidation as the victims your friend “The Bully” is bullying. Actions speak louder than words.So keep safe don’t let your child be one of the victim bring protection with check this out at that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.

  6. So if I understand correctly; if you question Watts or are against her cause, thats bullying. Dispute her ‘facts’ (I’m sure she bought out the 8 “children” ages 1-20 are killed by guns everyday “statistic”.) and you’re bullying as well. Its everyone against Watts in her mind.

    She’s just Suzy Homemaker trying to protect the children….


  7. Good job Lesley. The spectacle of legislators bloviating and badgering witnesses for effect is repulsive. But beyond this, the power of the gun issue to pull emotional comment is simply remarkable. Psychologists (or perhaps psychiatrists) should really take a look at this phenomenon.

  8. Lesley — Thank you for writing this. At a public hearing, our representatives should listen, learn, and ask thoughtful, insightful, relevant questions. Doing so is not bullying. But bringing up irrelevant personal information to try and discredit the speaker is bullying. And it is rude. Sadly, I am not surprised by politicians behaving so immaturely.

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