Democrats press to bar lawmakers from carrying guns in the Capitol

Greg Nash

A group of liberal Democrats is pressing House leaders in both parties to bar lawmakers from carrying guns on Capitol Hill.

Although members of the public are prohibited from carrying weapons of any kind on the Capitol grounds, a decades-old regulation allows lawmakers to bear firearms in most areas of the Capitol complex.

At least twenty-one Democratic gun reformers are hoping to overturn that exemption.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the liberals argued that gun-toting lawmakers, rather than boosting security around Capitol Hill, actually compromise the safety of everyone there, particularly because the Capitol Police are in the dark about who is armed and who is not.

Behind Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the Democrats are urging party leaders to adopt a rules change in the next Congress banning firearms for lawmakers and the public alike.

“Ultimately, the current regulations create needless risk for Members of Congress, their staff, members of the Capitol Police, and visitors to the Capitol grounds,” the lawmakers wrote to Pelosi and McCarthy.

The letter was endorsed by other leading congressional gun reformers, including Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), who represent Chicago, where gun violence has spiked in recent years, and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who was shot and wounded as a staff member during the 1978 congressional trip to the Jonestown cult settlement in Guyana. Former Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.) and four others were killed in that shooting.

The idea has been well-received by Pelosi, who has long pushed for stricter federal gun laws and is vowing to move legislation expanding background checks as a top Democratic priority in the next Congress.

For McCarthy and other Republican gun-reform opponents, however, the change is likely a non-starter, setting up a partisan clash over the Second Amendment even before President-elect Joe Biden, another gun reform advocate, takes office next month.

It’s unclear how many lawmakers currently take advantage of their right to bear arms on Capitol Hill — an obscure carve out adopted in 1967 by the Capitol Police Board after Congress passed a Capitol ban on firearms for the broader public.

The issue received new attention last month when reports emerged that Lauren Boebert, a 33-year-old Colorado Republican newly elected to the House, had approached Capitol Police during new member orientation to glean the firearm policies of Capitol Hill.

Boebert, who frequently carries a pistol on her hip, had made gun rights activism a central part of her successful campaign, in which she toppled the 10-year Republican Rep. Scott Tipton for the GOP nomination.

Huffman and the Democratic reformers are raising several specific concerns related to allowing guns around the Capitol. For one thing, they write, there are no House guidelines designed to ensure the safe storage of firearms, in member offices or anywhere else in the complex.

“[A]s you know, Member offices are open to staff, visitors, and the general public, and a firearm that is not secured could easily end up in the wrong hands,” the letter reads.

The lawmakers are also voicing concerns that, while the House Sergeant at Arms was said to brief the newly elected members on the Capitol’s gun rules, more veteran members have never received the same instructions.

“[M]ost returning Members are likely not aware of any regulations whatsoever regarding firearms on Capitol grounds,” the Democrats wrote. “As a result, there is a total lack of uniformity and procedure surrounding Members of Congress carrying firearms, which fosters an environment where Members may unwittingly be putting themselves and others in danger.”

The House rules package for the 117th Congress is currently being drafted by members of the Rules Committee, led by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). Adopting the rules will be among the very first votes of the House when the chamber convenes on Jan. 3 to launch the next session.

Tags concealed weapons. Gun control Gun rights House rules Jackie Speier Jared Huffman Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Mike Quigley Nancy Pelosi Robin Kelly Scott Tipton

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