Enough Ammunition to Shoot Every Member of the House and Senate | Opinion

In order to fully understand the events of January 6, and consider how we can prevent such an attack on our democracy from transpiring again, Americans must first acknowledge the centrality of guns to the extremists that stormed the U.S. Capitol.

First, make no mistake about it—this was an armed insurrection. While arrests and indictments are still rolling into our court system, at least nine individuals were arrested on firearms charges relating to events in or around the Capitol.

These arrests include a man who traveled to D.C. from Colorado, texting that he would be "putting a bullet" in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's head. It was no idle threat: authorities found him with a handgun, a pistol, an assault rifle, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, including armor piercing bullets. As he drove to D.C., the man allegedly sent texts that he was "ready to remove several craniums from shoulders."

An Alabama man was arrested in D.C., in possession of materials to build nearly a dozen Molotov cocktails, plus three handguns and an assault rifle. Prosecutors assert that the man was motivated to conduct violence against elected representatives.

A review of the police reports related to the pro-Trump insurrectionists shows that police seized at least 3,071 rounds of live ammunition during the course of these arrests—enough ammunition to shoot every member of the House and Senate five times. We'll never know, but if the authorities had the manpower to detain and search all of the insurrectionists on the way out of the Capitol, the number of firearms seized could have been far higher.

Second, many of the insurrectionists subscribe to, and are motivated by, an extreme gun rights worldview that believes armed rebellion is the reason to own guns. The constellation of far right groups and individuals that rioted at the U.S. Capitol included countless gun rights extremists. Members of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, anti-government militia groups organized around conspiratorial beliefs of looming civilian disarmament were present at the Capitol on January 6. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was arrested in D.C. with two illegal gun magazines, emblazoned with the Proud Boys logo as if designed as product advertising. And the man who infamously posed for pictures sitting in Speaker Pelosi's chair? He's a gun rights activist from Arkansas that self-identifies as a "white nationalist." The iconography of movement was also visible throughout the event, from patches to pro-gun messages emblazoned on the Confederate flag.

The insurrection at the Capitol was an extension of what we saw throughout 2020: extreme right groups, often motivated by conspiracy theories, using guns as tools of intimidation and violence in increasingly open ways, including the uniquely American phenomenon of protesting while openly carrying firearms.

The visuals have almost become commonplace—agitators, almost exclusively white and male, dressed in military dress and openly brandish assault-style weapons marching in and around state capitols. Indeed, there have been dozens of armed protests in American in just the past year, most notably in Richmond, Virginia where thousands showed up to brandish weapons in opposition to gun safety legislation in Virginia.

Third, the insurrection at the Capitol has direct and symbolic roots in NRA-wielded hysteria. As Everytown for Gun Safety chronicled in a report last September, groups like the NRA have spent decades spreading radicalizing conspiracy theories about plans for mass civilian disarmament, warning their members that the only thing standing between them and a grand authoritarian takeover was their easy access to any and all firearms. In doing so, the gun lobby has cravenly harnessed—and fanned—extremist fervor to augment its political power and juice its fundraising, pushing those in the mainstream towards extremism and those already radicalized further towards violence.

Guns are not ancillary to these extremists' message: firearms are a central organizing principle for these individuals and groups.

In the immediate term, federal and state law enforcement needs to heed the warnings of additional violence around the inauguration of President-elect Biden. An FBI bulletin warns of armed protests being planned in all 50 state capitols between January 16 and 20. The insurrectionists must not be given a second bite at the apple, either at the U.S. Capitol or any statehouse throughout the country.

Further, the Biden administration will need to be prepared to tackle armed extremism. This will necessarily involve disrupting access to guns by extremists who are prohibited from owning a gun or show a danger to their community, disrupting how extremists use firearms to intimidate and disrupt democracy, and shifting funding and resources to track, assess, and investigate acts of domestic extremism, focused on anti-democratic extremist activity and white supremacy.

Fortunately, America has elected a leader that is clear-eyed that this is a "battle for the soul of this nation," and who has a history of fighting the tough fights when it comes to gun violence.

Justin Wagner is Senior Investigations Counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety.

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