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Sergeant-at-Arms: Capitol Complex Should Largely Be Gun-Free Zone

May 25, 2022 by Dan McCue
Sergeant-at-Arms: Capitol Complex Should Largely Be Gun-Free Zone
Looking up Capitol Hill toward the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Loaded firearms have no place in the U.S. Capitol or on its grounds, unless they are in the hands of trained and authorized law enforcement personnel, the House sergeant-at-arms said on Wednesday.

William J. Walker’s unambiguous statement came in a letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., with whom he’s been corresponding about the issue since January.

“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, the U.S. Capitol Police, the U.S. Secret Service, and the protective details of visiting foreign officials,” the retired U.S. Army major general said.

“Regrettably, my position on this matter is not shared by all stakeholders. However, in my opinion, the law is clear,” he said.

The proliferation of guns on Capitol Hill has been a perennial concern for lawmakers, congressional staff and law enforcement, but those concerns took on a new urgency after the Jan. 6, 2021, siege on the U.S. Capitol by insurgents loyal to former President Donald Trump.

Shortly before the riot, 83 House Republican lawmakers wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., asking them to uphold their right to carry firearms inside the U.S. Capitol Complex.

Even before she arrived in Congress, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., an ardent gun-rights advocate, created a firestorm when she released a video in which she declared, “I will carry my firearm in D.C. and in Congress.”

Likewise, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., grabbed headlines when she lashed out at Capitol Police who insisted lawmakers go through metal detectors erected just outside the House and Senate chambers after the siege.

After several other lawmakers refused to comply with the new rule, some going so far as to push their way past Capitol Police, Pelosi imposed a $5,000 fine for members who refused, and $10,000 for each subsequent offense.

Other members vehemently oppose their colleagues’ laissez-faire position on guns, pointing out that the current divisiveness on Capitol Hill and the overheated rhetoric it inspires could result in an unanticipated, spur of the moment tragedy.

They also confess to a certain unease in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack, complaining that their colleagues can and do bring guns into the U.S. Capitol undetected, as they are able to bypass security screenings throughout the Capitol campus. 

As Walker points out in his letter to Hoyer, a 1967 law bans civilians from carrying guns on Capitol Hill, even if they have concealed carry licenses. 

But the law carves out an exception for lawmakers, who can keep firearms in their offices. 

Guns aren’t allowed everywhere, however. They’re prohibited in the House and Senate chambers and their adjoining lobbies and cloakrooms, the Marble Room of the Senate, and the Rayburn Room of the House. 

In addition, Walker wrote, the same law and regulations require that the firearms members are allowed to have in their offices be kept “unloaded and securely wrapped” when being transported anywhere else on the Capitol grounds. 

“Members are not allowed, pursuant to the 1967 regulations, to move around campus armed; any weapon must be unloaded and secured en route to or from a member’s office, including to, from, or into committee rooms,” Walker wrote.

Hoyer said he was happy to receive Walker’s letter and agreed with his “determined statement” that the Capitol Complex and grounds ought to be seen as a gun-free zone.

He also thanked the sergeant-at-arms for clarifying that members may not carry personal firearms outside their offices unless unloaded and fully secured for transport. 

“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,” Hoyer said. 

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with Sergeant Walker, the U.S. Capitol Police Board, and the Committee on House Administration in an effort to provide sufficient resources to enforce the rules and regulations concerning firearms and ensure that they are clearly posted and shared across Capitol Hill to keep everyone as safe as possible,” he added.

Walker also revealed his office is working on “a host of initiatives [to] make the Capitol more secure.”

He noted that his office’s emergency management division has partnered with the Capitol Police on a number of emergency drills including some that have involved responding to an active shooter.

Informational materials on these efforts are being developed for distribution to appropriate House staff, he said.

Walker also mentioned a number of steps that have been taken since Jan. 6, 2021, to make the Capitol Complex more physically secure.

These include a landscape and lighting redesign and the reinforcement of windows and doors.

Walker also said there are efforts, both ongoing and under consideration, to improve security at the entrance points to the Capitol and all House office buildings.

“There is room to expand our use of technology. The Sergeant-at-Arms’ ID Services and Police Services Divisions 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 are now available, which can further enhance our safety posture,” he said.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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