Historical Highlights

A Gunman in the House Gallery in 1932

December 13, 1932
A Gunman in the House Gallery in 1932 Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Representative Melvin Maas of Minnesota, who was stricken with total blindness in 1951, became an advocate for the physically handicapped until his death in 1964.
On this date, 25-year-old Marlin Kemmerer, a department store clerk from Allentown, Pennsylvania, brandished a gun in the visitors’ gallery on the west side of the House Chamber, demanding 20 minutes to speak on the nation’s economic depression. As Kemmerer leaned over the rail in the crowded gallery, aiming his .38 caliber pistol at the floor below, visitors and most Members of the 72nd Congress (1931–1933) fled the chamber, abandoning a teller vote on an amendment to a Treasury and Post Office appropriations bill. “I was in the Speaker’s Lobby and the Members kept running. . . . We had swinging doors there, they just flipped back and forth,” former House Page Glenn Rupp recalled. “And a couple of them fell down on the floor and I said, ‘What’s going on, what’s the matter? What’s going on inside?’” Minnesota Representative Melvin Maas, a World War I veteran who continued to serve in the Marine Corps Reserves, was one of a few Members who remained on the House Floor. Standing below the gunman, Maas calmly pleaded with Kemmerer to drop his weapon. After hesitating a moment, the gunman complied, dropping the loaded and cocked gun into Maas’s outstretched hands. Representative Fiorello La Guardia of New York, who had dashed up to the gallery, teamed with an off-duty Washington, D.C., police officer, to seize the young man and turn him over to the Capitol police. Representative Maas later received a Carnegie Hero Fund silver medal, an award acknowledging civilians who risk their lives for others.

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