In the past year, insurrectionists have violated the U.S. Capitol and armed demonstrators have forced their way into statehouses across the world. But the issue of whether weapons should be permitted in capitol buildings remains political, and states are going in opposite directions.
In Montana, a law signed Thursday allows anyone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon into the Statehouse, reversing a decadeslong prohibition and fulfilling a longstanding dream of Republicans who took control of the governor’s mansion and the Legislature this year. GOP-dominated Utah passed a law this month authorising people to carry concealed weapons in its Capitol and elsewhere in the state without a permit.
Guns are permitted in statehouses in some manner in 21 states, according to a study by The Associated Press. Eight states allow only concealed weapons inside their capitols, while two states allow only open carry.
Montana and Utah are two of at least 13 states that do not have metal detectors at the entrance to their capitols. The statehouses remain open to the public even though many have closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Several other nations, however, are seeking to ban weapons within their capitols. In Michigan, where armed demonstrators forced their way into the Statehouse last year and the FBI said it discovered a plan to abduct the governor, a state panel banned the open carry of weapons after the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C.
Democratic state Sen. Dayna Polehanki said that “tensions are high” in Michigan following the assaults, and she’s upset that concealed guns are still permitted 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 us safer,” she said.
Vermont lawmakers, meanwhile, are debating extending their Statehouse ban on weapons to other government buildings. In Washington state, a bill that would prohibit open carry of weapons in the Capitol and near approved demonstrations has passed a committee and is pending a vote by the full Senate.
“The purpose of openly carrying a weapon is to chill other people’s voices. And it works,” said its sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Patty Kuderer.
In neighbouring Oregon, crowds opposed to the Statehouse being closed to the public during a pandemic-related session stormed the building, including at least one person armed with an AR-15. And in Idaho, self-styled “patriots,” anti-vaccination groups and others forced their way past police at the Capitol in August, breaking a glass as they pushed and shoved through a gallery.
In Montana, however, Republican Rep. Seth Berglee said the U.S. Capitol riot didn’t impact his thought about the legislation he sponsored.
“People that have a permit are extremely law-abiding, and they are the type of people I would want to have around. I see them as being a deterrent to bad stuff happening,” he said.
There’s a similar initiative this year in Oklahoma, where gun rights supporters are again trying to allow citizens with a licence to carry guns within the Capitol. It hasn’t yet had a hearing.
“A person needs to be able to protect themselves, no matter where they are,” said Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association.
Not everybody in Montana feels safer with the new rule, however. Democratic House Minority Leader Kim Abbott said more weapons could add a chilling new dimension to debates in divisive times.
“If you have more guns in the building when you’re talking about things that are so personal and intense … you do think about things escalating,” she said.