WASHINGTON – A firearms-toting congresswoman-elect who owns a gun-themed restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, has already asked Capitol Police about carrying her weapon on Capitol grounds, her office has acknowledged. If she does so, she apparently won't be alone.
The practice is allowed for lawmakers, with some limitations, under decades-old congressional regulations. The public is barred from carrying weapons in the Capitol, its grounds and office buildings.
Republican Lauren Boebert, 33, was elected this month from a conservative western Colorado district after gaining notice as a brash pro-gun activist who straps a Glock pistol to her hip. In an upset last June, she defeated five-term Rep. Scott Tipton for the GOP nomination, in part by claiming he wasn't an ardent enough backer of President Donald Trump.
Boebert asked Capitol Police officials about carrying her weapon when she and other House freshmen taking office in January were in town recently for orientation programs, according to two congressional officials. Both people — a Democrat and a Republican — spoke on condition of anonymity to describe her request.
Aides to Boebert, who Trump endorsed as “a fighter" who will “never bow down to the establishment in Congress," did not make her available for an interview.
“This was a private discussion and inquiry about what the rules are, and as a result the Congresswoman-Elect won’t be going on the record,” Boebert aide Laura Carno said in an email last week.
The inquiries by Boebert, who runs Shooters Grill, come as guns remain a passionate issue for both parties, fueled by images of demonstrations by armed Trump supporters, conservative pushes to ease state gun restrictions and recent years' mass shootings.
Even so, prospects for significantly changing federal gun laws seem scant as a new, narrowly divided Congress takes office in January alongside President-elect Joe Biden.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki did not respond to a reporter’s questions about the department’s communications with Boebert and the number of lawmakers who carry firearms.
The agency's officials did not answer directly when Democrats on the House Committee on Administration asked in 2018 how many lawmakers carry firearms in the Capitol. The officials said in a written response that they've “been made aware” of inquiries about carrying weapons.
“There is no standing requirement” that lawmakers notify them when they carry a firearm in the Capitol, the officials wrote. Regulations require safe storage of weapons, but “that responsibility resides with the Member,” they said.
A 1967 regulation says no federal or District of Columbia laws restricting firearms “shall prohibit any Member of Congress from maintaining firearms within the confines of his office" or “from transporting within Capitol grounds firearms unloaded and securely wrapped."
Lawmakers may not bring weapons into the House chamber and other nearby areas, the regulations say, according to a letter Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., wrote in 2018. Aides can carry lawmakers’ weapons for them on the Capitol complex, he wrote.
In his letter to House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, Huffman summarized the regulations after being briefed on them by Irving. An opponent of letting members of Congress carry guns on Capitol grounds, Huffman abandoned a 2018 effort to halt the practice due to colleagues' strong opposition and said in an interview that he wouldn't try again this year due to continued resistance.
Huffman said the loophole for lawmakers, adopted after a summer of racial unrest in American cities, is outdated and risky.
He said members and their staffs carry firearms around the Capitol “all the time,” though he mentioned no names. He said lawmakers keep guns in their publicly accessible offices, though building entry has been limited due to COVID-19.
“Members could have a loaded AK47 sitting on their desk and no one would ever do anything about it," Huffman said.
He also said with lawmakers exempted from passing through screening devices throughout the Capitol campus, “no one checks” to make sure they're not bringing guns onto the House floor.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., chairman of the House Second Amendment Caucus, justified letting lawmakers carry weapons. He cited the 2017 shooting spree when a gunman wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and four other people as they practiced baseball in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.
“As soon as you leave the Capitol property, you are a target," Massie said.
Also supporting Boebert is Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., like Boebert a hard-right conservative with a penchant for attracting publicity. Greene like Boebert has expressed support for QAnon conspiracy theories, though both have tried distancing themselves from the unfounded beliefs.
“Not only do I support members of Congress carrying a firearm, I believe every American has that right." Greene said in a statement. “I will work every day to end ALL gun free zones.”
Police periodically arrest people caught trying to bring firearms into the Capitol and its buildings.
In 1999, Corey Lewandowski — then a congressional aide and later a manager of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign — was arrested when what court records called a loaded pistol was found in a laundry bag he was bringing into a House office building. Misdemeanor charges were dismissed.
The Capitol Police protect the complex with over 2,300 officers and civilian employees, according to its website. Its officers routinely arrest people caught trying to carry weapons at the Capitol.
The regulations letting lawmakers carry guns was written by the Capitol Police Board, which consists of four of Congress' top law enforcement and administrative officials.