Should representatives and senators be allowed to bring firearms into one of the world’s most famous workplaces?
In May 1967, armed members of the Black Panthers entered the California Capitol Building. In response, that October, the federal government banned most firearms from the Capitol grounds, with exemptions granted for members of Congress and law enforcement. Few if any people object to the law enforcement exemption, but just recently the Congress member exemption has become newsworthy.
Previously, it was unclear how many — if any — members of Congress were actually carrying concealed weapons inside the Capitol Building, even among gun supporting members. But after newly elected Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO3) starred in a viral video proclaiming that she would concealed carry in the hall of Congress, attracting more than 5 million views, the issue became hotly debated.
While members of Congress are currently allowed to concealed carry inside the Capitol grounds, they’re not allowed to do so anywhere else in Washington, D.C. unless they obtain a concealed carry license issued by the city. Boebert’s ad appears to show her walking through the streets of D.C with a concealed handgun, despite her concealed carry license being from Colorado, in potential violation of D.C. law. (A spokesperson later clarified that Boebert was not in fact armed during the video shoot.)
What the legislation does
The No Congressional Gun Loophole Act would prevent members of Congress from carrying weapons inside the Capitol Building or its grounds.
It was introduced in the House on January 28 as bill number H.R. 545, by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA2).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that Congress members should be subject to the same rules as everybody else.
“Threats of political violence are on the rise, and it makes all of us less safe if members of Congress and their staff don’t have to comply with gun safety standards,” said Rep. Huffman. “Members should not be above the law. These outdated and dangerous rules, that apply to everyone else who visits and works in the halls of Congress, must be modernized for everyone’s safety.”
Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund has confirmed that threats against members of Congress are increasing.
What opponents say
Opponents counter that the right to self-defense is critical for politicians in the public eye, where threats on their lives are not a theoretical concern.
“There is a history of violent attacks on members of Congress,” 83 House representatives or representatives-elect including Rep. Boebert wrote in a letter to congressional leaders, noting assassination attempts on Congress members in 1954, 1998, and 2017.
“The current regulations provide transitional coverage once the member is physically on campus,” but “if members can’t carry on Capitol grounds, they can’t protect themselves in D.C. while making their way to and from their offices to perform their official duties. The ‘last-mile’ transition of self-protection is critical.”
Odds of passage
Usually passed on the first day, one of the House’s first agenda items every two years is the “rules package” governing the chamber. While 21 House members had written a letter advocating such a gun ban be included in the 2021 rules package, the proposal was ultimately not included.
Although Rep. Boebert declared it her “first congressional victory,” it’s still possible that the proposal could receive a vote as standalone legislation, not tied to a broader rules package. It’s attracted 32 cosponsors, all Democrats, and awaits a potential vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.