House sergeant-at-arms says lawmakers should not carry firearms in Capitol Complex
House Sergeant-at-Arms William Walker revealed on Wednesday that he does not believe lawmakers should be permitted to carry firearms on the Capitol Complex — a departure from current policy, which allows members of Congress to bring D.C.-licensed firearms into Capitol buildings.
The revelation came in a letter Walker sent to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) that responded to a message the Maryland Democrat sent to the top security official calling for a ban on the use of firearms in the Capitol.
Walker said firearms should only be carried in the Capitol by U.S. Capitol Police, U.S. Secret Service and security officials protecting foreign individuals.
“It is my view that the Capitol Complex should be a place where no one carries a firearm unless they are actively engaged in law enforcement or the protection work done by, among others, myself, the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP), the U.S. Secret Service, and the protective details of visiting foreign officials,” Walker wrote in the letter.
The note comes one day after an 18-year-old gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two adults. The massacre has reignited the gun control debate on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers conducting behind-the-scenes discussions regarding firearm regulations in the U.S.
Walker, in his letter to Hoyer, recognized that his determination will not be popular among some individuals, but emphasized that “the law is clear.”
“Regrettably, my position on this matter is not shared by all stakeholders. However, in my opinion, the law is clear, and the regulation is unambiguous,” he wrote.
“In closing, I would like to iterate my support for efforts to make the Capitol Grounds safer for all by further limiting the number of people who carry firearms here. I stand ready to work with you as you consider how to make the Capitol Complex a safer space for all,” he later added.
According to a 1967 law, civilians are prohibited from bringing guns on Capitol grounds, but lawmakers are permitted to keep firearms in their offices and transport them on Capitol grounds as long as they are unloaded and securely wrapped.
The decision regarding banning lawmakers from carrying firearms in the Capitol altogether, however, is up to the Capitol Police Board, which is comprised of the House sergeant-of-arms, the Senate sergeant-at-arms and the Architect of the Capitol, according to CNN, which first reported on Walker’s letter.
Hoyer in a statement said he was “glad” to receive Walker’s letter, the contents of which “made it unambiguously clear that dangerous, loaded firearms should have no place in the Capitol complex other than in the hands of trained and authorized law enforcement personnel.”
“I was glad to receive his letter and read his determined statement that the Capitol complex and grounds ought to be seen as a gun-free zone and clarifying that Members may not carry personal firearms outside their offices unless unloaded and fully secured for transport,” he wrote.
“I hope that Sergeant Walker’s letter provides Members with certainty about firearm policies so that no one is under the impression that loaded firearms can be carried around the complex or brought into committee rooms or other spaces,” he added.
A number of lawmakers have publicly discussed carrying firearms on Capitol Hill.
Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) have both acknowledged being armed during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Cawthorn told Smoky Mountain News the day after the riot, “Fortunately, I was armed, so we would have been able to protect ourselves.”
It is not clear, however, if he had the firearm on him while on the House floor, which is not permitted.
Kinzinger revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone last year that he was “hunkered down” in his office for six hours during the attack “with my gun out, prepared to defend against my own party” when the rioters were moving through the building.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was stopped when trying to walk on the House floor last January because she set off the metal detectors at the entrance to the chamber, according to CNN. After the incident, the freshman congresswoman wrote on Twitter that she is “legally permitted to carry my firearm in Washington, D.C. and within the Capitol complex.”
Walker responded to Hoyer after the Democratic leader sent three letters regarding firearms in the Capitol, dated Dec. 14, 2021, Jan. 19 and April 28. The most recent message asked for his view on how Capitol security can be enhanced, and if the complex should be “made a fully gun-free zone.”
Walker on Wednesday told Hoyer that he is looking at additional ways to safeguard the Capitol.
“Regarding security enhancements to the Capitol Complex we are working on a host of initiatives. Among them, the Sergeant at Arms Emergency Management Division has partnered with the USCP on a variety of emergency drills including responding to an Active Shooter. Informational materials are being developed and will be distributed to appropriate House staff,” he wrote.
The sergeant-at-arms also said “There is room to expand our use of technology,” writing that the divisions within his office “are evaluating novel technologies which are respectful of the privacy concerns of Members and staff and are more appropriately suited for use on the Capitol complex.”
“Newer magnetometers and other scanning and security equipment now available, can further enhance our safety posture,” he added.