By Annie Grayer, CNN
House Sergeant at Arms William J. Walker, one of the top security officials on Capitol Hill, revealed that he does not believe lawmakers should be allowed to carry firearms in the US Capitol Complex, in a new letter provided exclusively to CNN.
“It is my view that the Capitol Complex should be a place where no one carries a firearm unless they are actively engaged in law enforcement or the protection work done by, among others, myself, the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) the U.S. Secret Service, and the protective details of visiting foreign officials,” Walker wrote.
Walker’s comments come one day after a gunman murdered 21 people in a Texas elementary school. Walker’s letter was prompted by an April letter from Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who asked Walker for clarity on whether the US Capitol could be made a “gun-free zone” with the exception of security personnel.
Firearms are prohibited in the Capitol Complex for most individuals, and lawmakers are only allowed to be armed in their offices.
Walker acknowledged in his letter that his position that lawmakers should be prohibited from carrying firearms in general is not a commonly held belief.
“Regrettably, my position on this matter is not shared by all stakeholders,” Walker wrote.
Hoyer praised Walker for his letter, saying in a statement to CNN that Walker had made it clear that “dangerous, loaded firearms should have no place in the Capitol complex other than in the hands of trained and authorized law enforcement personnel.”
“I was glad to receive his letter and read his determined statement that the Capitol complex and grounds ought to be seen as a gun-free zone and clarifying that Members may not carry personal firearms outside their offices unless unloaded and fully secured for transport,” Hoyer added.
The question comes down to a 1967 law. While the law prohibits most individuals from carrying firearms anywhere in the Capitol Complex, the Capitol Police Board has ruled that “nothing contained in the provisions” prohibits a member of Congress from “maintaining firearms within the confines of his office” or from being transported within the Capitol Grounds as long as the firearm is “unloaded and securely wrapped.”
The decision on how to proceed is up to the Capitol Police Board, the governing body that consists of three voting members including the House Sergeant of Arms, the Senate Sergeant of Arms and the Architect of the Capitol.
Hoyer’s letter to Walker in April was his third attempt at trying to push the Capitol Police Board to further restrict the use of firearms around the Capitol.
Hoyer’s continued pressure on the Capitol Police Board and now the House Sergeant at Arms comes as firearm carrying exceptions for members have created enormous tension on Capitol Hill, especially in light of the January 6 insurrection and with the installation of security screenings off the House floor.
GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado defended her right to carry a firearm after she was prohibited from entering the floor with one last year. In March 2020, GOP Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado posted a video daring then-presidential candidate Joe Biden to take the AR-15 from his office wall. After the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn told a local publication that he was armed during the riot.
“Right now, some aspects of existing regulation concerning the possession of firearms in the Capitol Complex or on its grounds are unclear or ambiguous in the understanding of some Members, who believe they have a right to carry personal firearms in these spaces, including committee rooms where they are engaged in committee business,” Hoyer wrote to Walker in April.
In response to Hoyer, Walker wrote, “I would like to iterate my support to make the Capitol Grounds safe for all by further limiting the number of people who carry firearms here. I stand ready to work with you as you consider how to make the Capitol Complex a safer space for all.”
Walker also informed Hoyer that his office is working on a “host of initiatives” to further enhance the security of the Capitol Complex. He shared that the Sergeant at Arms Emergency Management Division has partnered with USCP on a variety of emergency drills, including, how to respond to an active shooter.
Walker added that reinforcing windows and doors is also a priority, as well as considering how to improve the security at entrance points. He added that the Sergeant at Arms ID Services and Police Services Divisions are examining how to expand their technologies to also help keep the Capitol Complex safe.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify that lawmakers can only be armed in their offices.
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