US statehouses remain starkly divided along party lines on whether firearms should be allowed in capitol buildings — even after a year that has seen armed insurrectionists breaching the US Capitol and protesters storming seats of government around the country.
Guns are currently allowed in 21 US state capitol buildings, including eight states permitting concealed firearms and two allowing open carry.
At least 11 states do not have metal detectors at the entrance to their statehouses.
As recently as Thursday, lawmakers in Montana approved a new bill that reverses a decades-long ban on weapons inside the Helena statehouse.
The bill, allowing anyone with a permit to carry a gun, was spearheaded by Republicans who took control of all branches of government this year.
Similarly, the GOP-led Utah legislature approved a measure earlier this month that would allow guns to be carried in the Salt Lake City Capitol building, and around the state without a permit.
But at the same time, other states are moving to restrict firearms inside their government halls.
A Michigan panel banned the open carry of guns after the Washington riots, and threats of a second armed seizure of the Lansing Capitol.
However, state Sen. Dayna Polehanki said she doesn’t think the new ban goes far enough and is disappointed that concealed weapons are still permitted.
“Bullets are bullets,” Polehanki, a Democrat, said on Jan. 11.
“There is no reason any gun belongs in the Capitol.”
“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 added.
In Vermont, lawmakers are considering expanding the statehouse ban on guns to other Montpelier government buildings, while a measure in Olympia that would ban guns in the Washington state Capitol has won early approval.
“The purpose of openly carrying a weapon is to chill other people’s voices. And it works,” said its sponsor, Washington state Sen. Patty Kuderer, a Democrat.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma City who are pushing to allow unlicensed firearms in the state Capitol are being lobbied by gun rights advocates.
“A person needs to be able to protect themselves, no matter where they are,” said Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association.
Over in Montana, lawmakers in the Republican majority were not given pause by armed protesters in nearby Oregon and Idaho, who forced their way into statehouses to protest the pandemic lockdown.
“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 things happening,” Republican state Rep. Seth Berglee said.
However, Thursday’s measure was opposed by the state’s Democratic minority.
“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,” House Minority Leader Kim Abbott said.
With Post wires