In Montana, legislators approved a law last week that allows anyone with a permit to bring a concealed firearm into the statehouse, reversing a decades-long ban, under a measure supported by Republicans who took control of the governor’s mansion and the legislative body this year. Similarly, GOP-dominated Utah also passed a law this month that allows individuals to conceal carry in its state capitol and everywhere else in the state — even without a permit.
These are two examples of an accelerated push in some states to allow guns in public buildings, even in the wake of the Jan. 6 ransacking of the U.S. capitol, the Associated Press reports.
The issue coincides with the fierce political debate over firearms and gun control. Even though guns are allowed in statehouses in some form in 21 states, others are looking to the tragic events of January 6 to help guide legislative decisions, noting that the insurrection could have been deadlier if rioters were given an opportunity.
Everytown, a gun safety and support research organization, released a report at the end of January discussing the role of guns and armed extremists in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“A review of the police reports related to the arrests show that police seized at least 3,071 rounds of ammunition during the course of these arrests — enough ammunition to shoot every member of the House and Senate five times,” Everytown discovered.
Hundreds of rounds of additional ammo were found while making subsequent arrests of those involved.
One alleged insurrectionist, Cleveland Meredith from Colorado, was arrested for taking at least one handgun painted to look like the American flag, an assault rifle, and 2,500 rounds of ammunition onto the Capitol grounds. Ahead of his trip on January 6, Meredith texted friends that he would be “putting a bullet” in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head.
It’s statistics and anecdotes like these that suggest the riot could have been much more deadly than it was, The Hill reports.
Armed Protests in State Capitols
An Everytown analysis of data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University uncovered that at least 100 instances of armed protesters and incidents involving guns at protests in capital cities took place in 28 different states from May 2020 through mid-January 2021.
In Oregon, crowds pushed into the Capitol last year with at least one person armed with an AR-15 in an attempt to oppose a “pandemic-related session.” In Idaho last August, other protestors broke windows and shoved their way into a gallery pushing past police in their state Capitol building.
Another more notable example was the three-week-long unrest in Lansing, Michigan, where right-wing extremists blamed Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer for the state’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order extension, leading to them storming the building and brandishing weapons to intimidate lawmakers during their legislative session, Everytown details.
Gov. Whitmer identified the overlap of Confederate flags, signs with swastikas and people with assault rifles. One of the protesters carried a flag with the phrase “Come and Take It” referencing his AR-15 rifle.
The FBI later arrested and charged many extremists who had plans to kidnap the governor, and legislators banned open carry of guns inside the state Capitol, but conceal carry is still an option, the Associated Press details.
Democratic state Sen. Dayna Polehanki told the Associated Press that “tensions are high” in Michigan following the assaults, and she’s disappointed that concealed weapons are still allowed in the Statehouse.
“What they said is that weapons, guns, bullets are still welcome in our state Capitol as long as we can’t see them. It doesn’t make anyone safer,” she said.
While other states like Vermont and Washington are making true strides in expanding their ban on guns, other states have been quick to protect people’s right to carry.
In Oklahoma, a new proposal from this year argues that people with a license should be allowed to carry firearms inside the Capitol. The proposal hasn’t had a hearing yet, the Associated Press details.
“A person needs to be able to protect themselves, no matter where they are,” Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association told the Associated Press.
Other members of the Montana legislature report feeling vulnerable, as the state and Utah are two of at least 13 states without metal detectors at the entrance to their capitol buildings. Their statehouses are also open to the public, even as many others have closed due to the pandemic.
Democratic House Minority Leader Kim Abbott of Montana said more guns could add a chilling new dimension to debates in polarized times.
“If you have more guns in the building when you’re talking about things that are so personal and intense … you do worry about things escalating,” she said.