Lawmakers clash over gun prohibition in Natural Resources Committee room
Lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee clashed Thursday over a panel rule ensuring that guns are prohibited in its hearing room.
An amendment aiming to strip the provision from the rules failed on a 19-25 vote, but not without sharp debate.
“This is an enumerated right that American citizens have,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said over Zoom during the virtual hearing with several firearms visible behind her.
“Will there be metal detectors installed outside the committee hearing doors? If this is passed, the chairman is trying to take responsibility for my personal safety while stripping away my Second Amendment rights,” Boebert added, referring to the rules package.
But Democrats argued that they might feel unsafe if their colleagues bring guns into the room.
“If somebody wants to have a shrine to their gun fetish as a Zoom backdrop in their private life, they can do that. But this is our hearing room,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said.
“I think it’s necessary, not only appropriate, but necessary that we lay down these ground rules that whatever your fetishes or feelings are about guns, you’re not going to bring them into our committee room. You don’t need them there for your own safety. Many of us feel like it threatens our safety,” Huffman added.
Under existing Capitol Police regulations, members of Congress are exempt from the blanket prohibition on firearms anywhere in the Capitol complex.
Lawmakers can store guns in their offices and can transport them, unloaded and securely wrapped, elsewhere on the Capitol campus. But guns are expressly forbidden altogether in the House and Senate chambers, as well as the adjacent areas.
A committee spokesperson told The Hill they believe lawmakers are already prohibited from having firearms in the hearing room under the existing rules, but the committee wanted to take the extra step of putting it in writing.
And Huffman told The Hill in an interview that he believes the rule is necessary because of a “new crop of members of Congress who don’t think rules apply to them, who are so in love with their weapons that they boast about taking them everywhere.”
“Most Republicans aren’t gun lunatics,” he added. “With members so strident and unhinged about their guns, you kind of need to do this.”
Huffman said he believed the rule was necessary in light of recent events and Boebert’s “ongoing antics.”
The Hill has reached out to Boebert’s office for comment.
Some Democrats have been pushing for years to end the gun exemption for members of Congress, which was enacted in 1967 amid race riots in cities across the nation.
Huffman and fellow California Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier re-introduced legislation last month to prohibit lawmakers from carrying guns at all in the Capitol complex.
Members of Congress had also been exempt from going through metal detectors to enter the Capitol complex, which all other staff and visitors must comply with for entry. That partly changed last month when metal detectors were installed outside the doors to the House chamber to enforce the rules banning guns in the chamber.
The new security screenings quickly drew pushback from several House Republicans, prompting Democrats to enact hefty fines starting at $5,000 to enforce compliance. But before the fines were enacted earlier this month, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) nearly entered the House chamber with a gun that was caught by a metal detector.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) acknowledged in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon this month that some members of Congress have long been quietly ignoring the rule banning guns on the House floor.
“The fact of the matter is that, historically speaking, a number of members that carried just kind of didn’t really acknowledge or follow that rule but they didn’t make a show out of it,” Roy said. “No one said anything about it, no one asked.”
This is also not the first time lawmakers on Natural Resources have fought over procedural issues. Last year, Republican members opposed the panel’s use of virtual hearings as a way to avoid contact during the coronavirus pandemic.