WASHINGTON – Members of Congress should be barred from carrying firearms anywhere in the Capitol or its surrounding office buildings and grounds, the House's top law enforcement official said Wednesday, a view that goes beyond current restrictions and defies Republican orthodoxy on the issue of guns.
House Sergeant at Arms William J. Walker voiced his opinion a day after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school. The shooting spree — following a racist attack two weeks ago in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people — has ignited talk in Congress about passing gun safety legislation, efforts that have ended in partisan stalemate for years.
Under a tangle of laws and regulations, members of Congress are permitted to carry firearms around the Capitol complex with restrictions, but not onto the House or Senate floors or into nearby corridors or rooms.
“The Capitol Complex should be a place where no one carries a firearm unless they are actively engaged in law enforcement" or protecting officials or dignitaries, Walker wrote in a letter.
He added, “Regrettably, my position on this matter is not shared by all stakeholders.” There is no indication that an outright ban on members having guns at the Capitol and its complex is likely anytime soon.
Walker's letter was a response to queries from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who asked him to clarify the Capitol's gun policies and whether he believed the Capitol and its grounds should become “a fully gun-free zone.”
The carrying of guns on Capitol Hill gained attention and became a partisan flashpoint after then-President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, seeking to derail Congress' formal certification of his reelection defeat.
Shortly after that attack, in which five people died and scores were seriously injured, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had magnetometers installed to screen lawmakers before they enter the House chamber. Republicans objected to the machines, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has said he will have them removed if Republicans win House control in November elections and he becomes speaker.
While members are allowed to have guns in their offices, Walker wrote that additional restrictions apply. “Members are not allowed, pursuant to 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 committee rooms, he said.
Hoyer wrote his most recent letter last month after Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., was caught trying to bring a loaded weapon aboard a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina. He was also stopped last year attempting to carry a loaded pistol onto a flight. Cawthorn lost a primary last week for the GOP nomination for his seat, meaning he will leave Congress in January.
The Senate has not installed magnetometers.