Dec 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Pistol-packing freshmen prompt Congress gun review

Freshman congresswoman Lauren Boebert at the opening of her restaurant in 2013
Freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) in 2018. Photo: Emily Kask / AFP

Several incoming House freshmen have inquired about carrying guns into the Capitol, leading a board overseeing congressional security to rethink a regulation banning members from packing heat under the dome, a House aide with direct knowledge of the board review told Axios.

Why it matters: Some Democratic members say expanded gun carrying on Capitol Hill would be a "provocation" in light of the current political climate. Some Republicans consider it an expression of a citizen's Second Amendment rights.

The matter will be reviewed by the Capitol Police Board, which consists of the sergeant-at-arms of the House, the sergeant-at-arms and doorkeeper of the Senate, and the Architect of the Capitol, said the House aide. The chief of the Capitol Police also serves on the board.

  • “The Architect of the Capitol and the Senate sergeant-at-arms are gonna do whatever [Mitch] McConnell wants," another aide to a top Democratic lawmaker told Axios.

The backstory: The District of Columbia has some of the nation's strictest gun laws but the Capitol complex is exempt since it's on federal land. That allows lawmakers to set their own rules.

  • Members can carry guns into the House and Senate office buildings surrounding the Capitol building.
  • There's a ban on carrying them into the House and Senate chambers, the Speaker's Lobby just off the House floor, as well as other rooms around either chamber, according to a Capitol Police Board document from 1967.
  • That said, there's no way to tell if a member violates the rules because they're allowed to walk around metal detectors when they enter the Capitol. It's also an open question about whether they can legally carry guns in the Rotunda and other public areas of the building.
  • Congress recently spent $600 million on a new Capitol Visitors Center, in part to expand the public security perimeter around the House and Senate chambers after a gunman rushed into the building in 1998 and killed two police officers.
  • Members can bypass all that with their own entrances and wave-through privileges.

What we're hearing: Some incoming Republican members have complained about not being able to bring firearms into the Capitol building, the focus of at least two questions asked in November during new-member training on Capitol Hill.

  • The AP reported that Lauren Boebert, a Republican congresswoman-elect from Colorado who often carries a Glock and owns a gun-themed restaurant, privately asked Capitol Police about the rules for carrying a gun.
  • Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told Axios he's been privately lobbying Capitol Police against guns in the Capitol. He tweeted his concerns on Sunday night after Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) tweeted that Joe Biden's inauguration would be the "first hour of conspiracy to dismantle America."

What they're saying: “I know that they are here. And I think that ban should continue," Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) told Axios. "And if there's folks who are suggesting that they're going to do otherwise, then the Capitol Police and the sergeant-at-arms should make clear to them what the rules are and the consequences.”

  • Armed protesters stormed the state capitol in Slotkin's home state of Michigan last May to rail against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home orders prompted by the coronavirus.
  • Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) said the idea of bringing guns into the Capitol is "absurd," and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) called it "a provocation."
  • "We're in a very secure area of this Capitol," said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). "I think it's more for making a political statement than a personal security, and I think this is not the place for that."

Republicans disagree.

  • Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican who leads the House Freedom Caucus, told Axios, "I'm fine" with members bringing guns into the Capitol building.
  • Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) also told Axios that's fine with her. "I am proud of all of the members we've elected and their defense of our Second Amendment rights," she said.
  • Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) also said he has "no problem" with incoming freshmen toting guns, although he did not specifically address them being brought into the Capitol.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said two years ago she would ask authorities to revisit the 1967 directive, but there hasn't been any change.

  • "This regulation is controlled by the Capitol Police Board,” said one of her spokespeople.

A McConnell spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment, and representatives for the House sergeant-at-arms said they do not comment on the security of the Capitol.

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