Senate’s Military Vets Weigh In on Capitol Police’s Lost Guns
As a West Point graduate and former infantry platoon leader, Sen. Jack Reed knows the weighty responsibility that comes with being routinely armed on duty and the necessity of strict accounting for weapons.
“I remember coming back from training; I would wait until the armorer ran through every weapon and made sure they were accounted for by serial number and then I could go home. Because if one of them were missing, I would be first calling my commanders — before someone else did — and then expecting serious consequences,” said the Rhode Island Democrat, a retired Army Ranger who commanded paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Reed believes it’s “obviously” time to look at training and accountability for Capitol Police, following CQ Roll Call’s report on two incidents of dignitary protection detail officers leaving unattended Glocks around the Capitol. “Do people have to check their weapons in once a day? At least you’ll know,” he said, referring to an expected review of the incidents by the agency’s inspector general. “That’s the whole system in the military — it was training, supervision and accountability.”
With a budget of $348 million, and elite resources — including a hazardous materials team, armored vehicles, high-powered rifles — those on Capitol Hill who are most familiar with the department, including House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, call it a “military organization.” Top law enforcement officials refer to the rank-and-file officers as “troops” defending the fortress that is the Capitol. And a sizable number of the Capitol’s cops are either active or former members of the military.
That might explain why Reed, among 20 members of the Senate who are military veterans, found the reports of unattended weapons incredibly alarming.
“I love my rifle. I was never separated from it. I slept with it,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said. Inspired by his father’s service in the Marine Corps during World War II, Roberts joined the Marines after college. “That didn’t happen in the Marine Corps. If it did, it happened only once and then that Marine would no longer be in the Marine Corps. … You just don’t do that. You’re inculcated with that from the very first day of boot camp. It just doesn’t happen.”
With a seat on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, Roberts said he sympathizes with all the overtime work Capitol Police have to perform. “But there’s no excuse for this,” he told CQ Roll Call.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who deployed to the Middle East for 14 months with the National Guard, said a service member’s gun “should always stay on their person, unless they are secured.”
Fellow freshman Gary Peters, D-Mich., a one-time lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve, agreed it “would be completely unacceptable in a military organization to leave a loaded weapon somewhere unattended.” Peter said he was “very disturbed” by the report, saying, “Particularly in the Capitol, where you have tourists and visitors that are here, to have a loaded weapon that’s unattended is a serious thing in my mind. Very serious.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., an Army combat veteran, declined to comment.
Capitol Police did not respond to an inquiry about retraining all officers on weapons handling. An internal memo from the deputy chief of the Uniformed Services Bureau, obtained in April by CQ Roll Call, detailed new overtime control measures to stretch the department’s budget to the end of the fiscal year, including suspending all training with the exception of handgun and long-gun training.
When asked if officers receive any training on what to do with their firearms while using the bathroom, Capitol Police did not comment. For those working in suits around the House or Senate chamber, or deployed on a protective detail, the Glock is one of many pieces of equipment carried — in addition to handcuffs and a radio.
“It’s an article 15 if you left your weapon unattended in the military,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who served in the Air Force and is a colonel in the Air Force Reserve. “That would be non-judicial punishment,” the former staff judge advocate explained. “You would be disciplined in the military if you compromised your weapon.”
The dignitary protection unit officer allegedly involved in the Jan. 29 incident that left a Glock and magazine unattended in a public bathroom staff was working on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s detail and was recommended for six days of unpaid suspension.
“That’s in line, yeah,” Graham said. “In the military, it would hurt your ability to get promoted, but you wouldn’t be court-martialed unless it was an egregious violation. But that’s, you know — it would probably be more severe in the military, but that is punishment.”
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., tussled with Capitol law enforcement earlier this year over a security snafu involving former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, who was a witness during a January hearing. McCain, who served in the Navy from 1958 to 1981, including spending more than five years as a prisoner of war, said weapons handling is a matter of training and discipline.
“Of course it’s concerning,” he said of the May 1 report, though he declined to speculate on discipline. “Honestly, I don’t know the circumstances and all that, but obviously it’s a practice which harms the reputation and esteem with which these individuals are held. It’s harmful to their reputation and that’s unfortunate because the overwhelming majority of them are outstanding people.”
Asked if Congress could do anything to correct the problem, McCain said, “I’m sure we have oversight responsibilities, just as we did when Capitol Police were conspicuous by their absence when Henry Kissinger was mobbed by the Code Pink people. That was inexcusable.”