At the Washington Examiner: To prevent violence, let members of Congress keep carrying guns

Feb 5, 2021 | op-ed

Dr. John Lott and Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD) have an op-ed together at the Washington Examiner on the push by some Democrats to completely ban Congressman having guns at the Capitol.

When politicians can face impeachment for inciting violence despite asking people to show their support “peacefully,” you would think politicians would weigh their words more carefully. Yet last Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that unnamed members of Congress “threatened violence on other members of Congress.”

“We will probably need a supplemental [appropriation] for more security for members when the enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that the members are concerned about, in addition to what is happening outside,” the California Democrat warned.

Democrats are using the Jan. 6 riot to justify almost any security action, necessary or not. Of course, Democrats raised no concerns when violent riots occurred during former President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Never mind that the small group of violent rioters on Jan. 6 didn’t use guns at the Capitol. Never mind that members of Congress are allowed to carry loaded firearms in their offices and unloaded firearms in the Capitol but not on the legislative floor where Congress was meeting to count the electoral votes. If there had been a larger imminent threat to legislators without enough Capitol Police to protect them, they would have been defenseless.

So under the veil of security, without apparent justification, the decision was made to install metal detectors at the entrance to the House floor, but not the Senate. And some Democrats are now pushing to forbid the possession of any firearm, loaded or unloaded, by lawmakers and their staff in the Capitol complex and office buildings.

You would think by now that Congress has realized the dangers of gun-free zones. Take the 2017 case in Virginia, when Republican lawmakers were shot at during a baseball practice. A tall fence with only one exit blocked by the attacker trapped them. The Republicans only survived the shooting because the security detail for Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, was there. He had the detail because he was then a member of House leadership. If he hadn’t been there, the attack could have been much worse because members trained with firearms weren’t allowed to have them at the practice.

At least five of the congressmen had concealed handgun permits from their home states, and at least one aide also had a permit and believed that he could have stopped the attack if he had been allowed to be armed. But as Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who was present at the attack, explained: “My residence is in the District of Columbia, which means that it would have been illegal for me to take my weapon with me to the ballpark, about a 9-mile bike ride, and it would have also been illegal for me to come from Virginia back into D.C. with my weapon.”

Since 1950, 94% of the nation’s mass public shootings have occurred in places that banned the public from having guns. In Europe, every mass shooting has happened in a gun-free zone.

Police are critical. Indeed, they are probably the most important factor in reducing crime. But uniformed police have an extremely difficult job stopping terrorists because they are often the first targets in any attack. Capitol officials try to solve this problem by having a lot of police, but anyone who walks the halls of Congress knows that Capitol Police aren’t everywhere, and they were overwhelmed on Jan. 6.

Though members of Congress have been able to have guns at the Capitol since the beginning of the country, there has never been a problem. Possibly the biggest recent ruckus occurred in 2007 when a staffer for then-Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, was arrested after entering a Senate office building with a loaded handgun in his briefcase, though Capitol Police said the former Marine had “no intent to harm anyone.” Only months later was it revealed that the aide was carrying Webb’s gun for him, and the charges were dropped.

Many state capitol buildings have even more liberal rules for carrying guns, and 23 statesnow allow people to carry guns within them. Montana will likely become the 24th state within the next couple of weeks. At least four states ban guns but don’t check legislators.

Although carrying has been allowed for decades, and possibly even longer, in many of these statehouses, no one has ever been injured or killed. Neither have there been any reported problems with civilians being able to carry on statehouse grounds.

Advocates of gun-free zones falsely claim that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders. Or they say that arriving police will shoot the permit holders. But in recent years, concealed carry holders have stopped dozens of what otherwise would have been mass public shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities, and busy downtown areas. These cases rarely get national news coverage. Not once have these permit holders shot a bystander. Police almost always arrive well after the attack has ended, so there isn’t confusion about whom to shoot.

The problem with gun-free zones, which ban law-abiding civilians from carrying, is that they don’t scare off criminals. The opposite is true. Disarming everyone, including legislators or staffers on their way to and from the buildings or the legislative floor, leaves them to be easy, attractive targets for criminals and terrorists. Criminals have incentives to disobey the law precisely because the law-abiding people obey it.

Rep. Andy Harris represents Maryland’s 1st Congressional District. John Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center.

John Lott & Rep. Andy Harris, “To prevent violence, let members of Congress keep carrying guns,” Washington Examiner, February 5, 2021.
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