House Democrats revive bill to ban colleagues from carrying guns on Capitol grounds

January 28, 2021

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) has revived a years-long effort to ban members of Congress from carrying guns on the Capitol grounds, a move likely to rankle Republicans who, in some cases, have refused to cooperate with security screenings put in place in the wake of the violent siege of Jan. 6.

Huffman filed the No Congressional Gun Loophole Act on Thursday, seeking to nullify regulations that exempt members of Congress from a federal law banning guns on Capitol grounds. He has pushed to prohibit his colleagues from toting guns since 2018 — but he says the overheated political environment and the behavior by some House Republicans in recent weeks “have really helped underscore” the need to refile the bill at this moment.

“When I brought this up with colleagues in the past, most were surprised to know that members could do whatever they wanted with guns,” Huffman said in an interview. “But I think there has been a false sense of security that nothing bad would happen. The events of recent days have totally changed that”

Lawmakers are exempt from the ban on carrying guns on the Capitol grounds thanks to 1967 Capitol Police Board regulations. They may keep guns in their offices and can transport them within the complex if the weapons are “unloaded and securely wrapped.” But they cannot bring guns into the House and Senate chambers.

After a mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6, magnetometers were installed near the House chamber, leading to immediate resistance from some GOP lawmakers.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), for example, refused to allow Capitol Police to search her bag after the magnetometers were installed Jan. 12, just days after vowing in a viral ad to carry a Glock around D.C. and at the Capitol.

On Jan. 21, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) was found to be carrying a gun while going through a metal detector near the House chamber, according to a Hill staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the incident. Harris cooperated with a search and did not proceed onto the floor.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), who revved up a crowd of Trump supporters on the morning of Jan. 6, told the Smoky Mountain News that he was armed during the Capitol attack. In December, he had encouraged Trump supporters to “lightly threaten” their representatives and that “everybody is coming for you” if they didn’t support “election integrity,” the Asheville Citizen Times reported.

These lawmakers have “just done a far better job making the case for this bill than anything I could say,” Huffman said.

Huffman calls arguments guns are needed within the Capitol for self-defense “just not credible,” given that the complex is protected by the Capitol Police. He has noted that introducing guns into a volatile situation, such as the Jan. 6 riot, would hurt rather than help.

But Republican gun rights advocates in Congress have pushed back hard.

In a Jan. 1 letter to House leadership, Boebert led more than 80 Republicans in support of carrying guns on Capitol grounds, citing previous attacks on lawmakers, notably when House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was shot at a Virginia baseball field in 2017.

“If the current regulations are changed, the Member will be at risk of physical assault and real danger, especially after voicing views of his or her constituents that may not be held by others physically present in Washington D.C.,” the letter said.

More than 30 Democrats have signed on in support of Huffman’s bill, and a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she “supports Congressman Huffman’s efforts.”

At her weekly news conference Thursday, Pelosi said “we will probably need a supplemental for more security for members, when the enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that members are concerned about, in addition to what is happening outside.”

Pressed by a reporter on what she meant by “the enemy is within,” Pelosi said, “That we had members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress.”

Pelosi chastised lawmakers willing to disregard the metal detectors in a statement last week, vowing to amend the House rules to levy $5,000 fines on those who refuse to cooperate with the security screenings. A second offense would lead to a $10,000 fine.

“It is sad that this step is necessary, but the disrespectful and dangerous refusal of some Republican Members to adhere to basic safety precautions for our Congressional Community — including our Capitol Police — is unacceptable,” Pelosi wrote in a dear-colleague memo.

Still, some red-state Democrats have signaled opposition to banning members from carrying guns. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.), for example, does not carry guns in the Capitol but has said he supported colleagues who did.

“There is a clear history of members of Congress being targeted with violence,” he wrote on Twitter last month. “And if we want to carry for an added layer of protection, we should and, if possible, would be good to rbe able to do so.”

A Capitol Police spokeswoman did not respond to a question about whether the agency is tracking how many lawmakers have been found to be carrying guns or tracking incidents at the magnetometers. The House and Senate sergeants-at-arms could not be immediately reached. Spokespeople for Pelosi and Huffman said that information has not been tracked by authorities, which Huffman said has allowed for an “honor system that is flouted by members of Congress.”

He said he was worried about the possibility of guns stored in lawmakers’ offices “getting into the wrong hands” or a gun-carrying lawmaker pulling out the weapon during a tense political moment.

“I just think it’s a matter of time before something really tragic happens because of this special exemption that members of Congress have,” Huffman said.

By:  Meagan Flynn
Source: Washington Post