In the wake of mass shootings in Charleston, S.C., Washington murmured about resurrecting failed firearm control legislation , yet the House's Second Amendment defenders stuck to their guns about a push to further dismantle local weapons laws in the District of Columbia.
"Even though we have a lot of folks on this issue that speak emotionally, we have really good data sets from at least our state that show from experience," said Rep. David Schweikert, an Arizona Republican who endorsed a bill supporters say would take away the D.C. Council's ability to enact gun control measures. Accidental discharge and gun crime are down "substantially," Schweikert said, since his state enacted some of the most lenient gun laws in the nation.
In interviews provoked by a reminder from House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving about weapon restrictions on Capitol grounds, Schweikert and other backers of identical proposals from Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida and Rep. Jim Jordan,of Ohio, said the District's gun laws violate the Constitution. But they still support restricting the right to carry in sensitive places, like the Capitol.
“It doesn’t need to have sort of the straw man-type argument of well, 'It’s D.C. If you do this, do you think they should bring it into your office?'" Schweikert said. "In some ways, it shows how far the discussion has come when the opponents of it have to start making the sort of absurdity arguments now in the discussion. You got lots of state sets of laws and you can see what’s working and what’s not. I think that’s fair.”
Sensing an opportunity to score political points, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., accused Irving of leaving a "misimpression" in his message that warned members, staffers and visitors to leave guns and other weapons at home when visiting the Capitol or risk violating D.C. statutes.
Norton requested Irving correct the record to make clear that federal law, not D.C. law, prohibits the possession of any and all firearms in the Capitol and other federal building. Local gun laws, thrown into flux by federal court challenges, prohibit possession of only certain dangerous guns, such as assault weapons, Norton pointed out.
The congresswoman also took a swipe at Rubio and Jordan, doubling down on her challenge to Rubio and Jordan "to be consistent by introducing a bill to overturn the federal laws that prohibit guns in federal buildings, including the Capitol," in a statement.
"The bill recognizes that there are sensitive places in the District, and also ensures that businesses and individuals that want to restrict firearms on their premises are able to do so," a spokesman for Jordan responded in an email to CQ Roll Call. "Across the country, firearms are restricted in sensitive places like courthouses. This bill simply brings D.C. in line with common-sense regulations in many states across the country."
Rep. Matt Salmon, R- Ariz., said Jordan's bill is an attempt to "uphold the Second Amendment."
"Coming into the Capitol mall itself, they’re going to be subject to the rules that are within the Capitol mall itself, but outside — in D.C. proper — it’s a different situation altogether," Salmon said. "I carry all the time," he said, unbuttoning his shirt to show off a tiny silver gun-shaped pendant on a silver chain. “I’m always carrying.”
Salmon said gun banning doesn't solve the problem of gun violence. "The answer is, we’ve got to deal with some very serious mental health issues here in this country that we haven’t done effectively. ... I’m proud of Jim for doing what he’s doing. I think it’s good policy," he added.
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., acknowledged the issue was "tricky," during an interview.
"But, I do believe that you shouldn’t allow a state to have more restrictive gun laws … courts have consistently said that D.C. is violating the Constitution with what they're doing, but then they find some new way to continue to restrict the freedoms," he said, referring to the city's restrictive may-issue concealed carry licensing policy.
“I don’t think the District of Columbia should be allowed to restrict people’s constitutional rights beyond the limits of the Constitution. I think that’s what they’re doing,” Hudson said.
Capitol Police have the authority to enforce both federal and D.C. law. The broad list of prohibited items is what officials wanted to make clear to members in its alert, according to Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Tim Blodgett. "And that member offices should remind their constituents of that so they don’t get into legal jeopardy when they come onto Capitol grounds,” he told CQ Roll Call.
"We’ve had a few cases recently where there’s apparently a plastic key chain that qualifies as knuckles under the D.C. code. So, we’ve had some constituents come up here thinking they just have a keychain and end up having to get arrested, unfortunately," Blodgett said.
Norton blasted the agency for dismissing her request. “Because our mission is law-making, it is expected that a congressional agency would be at pains to be accurate and unambiguous when informing Members and staff about rules and regulations that apply to Capitol Grounds," she responded on Friday.
"If the Sergeant-at-Arms wanted to explain further, he could indicate that most prosecutions for bringing the listed weapons onto Capitol Grounds occur under D.C. law," Norton stated. "It is unprofessional for a police agency to be reluctant to correct an error.”
Asked if the public should be allowed to carry guns on Capitol grounds, another backer of Jordan's bill, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said, "I leave that up to the sergeant-at-arms."
Heck doesn't buy the arguments of D.C. officials that the city is a unique place with heightened security concerns, as the home base for Congress, many foreign embassies and the president.
“There’s dignitaries of varying levels in every town across America," he said. "It all depends on how you define 'dignitary.'"