Don't Let Anti-Gun Activists Weaponize the Capitol Hill Riot | Opinion

After the riot at the U.S. Capitol, gun control organizations warn that armed rioters at state capitols across the country on Inauguration Day pose a threat to our democracy. They claim the only solution is for states to ban guns on capitol grounds, thus extending their bans on carrying guns on public property generally.

Never mind that the small group of rioters didn't use guns at the U.S. Capitol. Never mind that congressmen are allowed to carry in the U.S. Capitol, but not on the legislative floor, where Congress was meeting at the time to count Electoral College votes. If there had been a real threat to legislators, they would have been defenseless. Of course, these same groups and national Democrats raised no concerns about the violent riots that occurred when Trump was inaugurated four years ago.

The fear of American citizens regarding the inauguration is all over national news. Democratic governors across the country are "fortifying statehouses" and 25,000 National Guard troops are protecting Washington with razor wire and fences.

Without such a ban, "the president and the gun lobby [will] hold our democracy hostage by threatening voters and elected officials with deadly force," argued John Feinblatt, president of Michael Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety. Similarly, the Giffords gun control organization's top state legislative priority is to ban guns in as many state capitols as it can.

But gun control activists have been gradually losing this battle over eliminating gun-free zones. More state capitols currently allow carrying guns than ever before.

Twenty-three states now allow people to carry guns within their state capitols, and Montana should become the 24th state within the next couple of weeks. At least four additional states officially ban guns on state capitol grounds, but they don't check legislators—and some carry.

Despite carrying being allowed for decades (or possibly even longer) in many of these statehouses, no one has ever been injured or killed. There have been no reported problems with civilians being able to carry on statehouse grounds.

For example, Kentucky allows permitted concealed carry in legislative areas, including the state capitol. You must carry your gun openly if you attend a legislative meeting, though no permit is required.

In Texas, any concealed handgun permit holder can carry in the state capitol. Registered permit holders get to skip the metal detector since they have already passed a criminal background check. After a while, many lobbyists and journalists figured this out and got permits themselves.

U.S. Capitol prepared for Joe Biden's inauguration
U.S. Capitol prepared for Joe Biden's inauguration Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Since 1950, 94 percent of America's mass public shootings have occurred in places where the general public has been banned from possessing guns. Over the same time period in Europe, every major mass shooting has happened in a gun-free zone.

Police are critical. Indeed, they are probably the single most important factor in reducing crime. But uniformed police have an extremely difficult job stopping terrorists, as they are often the first targets in any attack. The U.S. Capitol tries to solve this problem by maintain a large police presence, but anyone who has walked the halls of Congress knows that the police aren't everywhere.

Advocates of gun-free zones claim that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders, or that arriving police will shoot permit holders.

But in recent years, concealed carry permit holders have stopped dozens of what otherwise would have been mass public shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities and busy downtown areas. These cases virtually never get national news coverage. Not once have these permit holders ever shot a bystander. And police virtually always arrive well after the attack has ended, so there isn't confusion about who the target ought to be.

Congress has already seen the dangers of gun-free zones. Take the 2017 case in Virginia, when Republican lawmakers came under fire during a baseball practice. A tall fence, with only one exit blocked by the attacker, trapped the lawmakers. The Republican legislators only survived the shooting at their baseball practice because then-Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) was there with his security detail, to which he was entitled as a member of House leadership.

At least five of the congressmen had concealed handgun permits from their home states. At least one aide also had a permit, and believed that he could have stopped the attack if he was armed. But as Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who was present at the attack, explained: "My residence is in the District of Columbia, which means that it would have been illegal for me to take my the ballpark—about a nine-mile bike ride—and it would have also been illegal for me to come from Virginia back into D.C. with my weapon."

The problem with gun-free zones, which ban law-abiding civilians from carrying, is that they don't scare off criminals. Indeed, just the opposite is true. Disarming everyone, including legislators or staffers, on their way to and from capitol buildings leaves them easy, attractive targets for prospective criminals and terrorists. The murderers have an incentive to disobey the law precisely because the law-abiding obey it.

John R. Lott, Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recently of Gun Control Myths. Up until this week, Lott was the senior advisor for research and statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.