WASHINGTON – Oh, the things one must do to become a successful Capitol Hill
You have to dress the part. Jackets. Ties in a Windsor knot. No V-necks. The right shoes.
Treat everyone who comes into a congressional office like royalty. Know that it’s not your name on the door. It’s the congressman or senator.
Don’t gossip. This is a biggie.
And… never bring your firearm to the U.S. Capitol complex.
Uhh…hold on a minute…
It happened again Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
For the 12th time in the past year-and-a-half, a congressional staffer, lobbyist or visitor attempted to pass through a security checkpoint on the Capitol grounds with a firearm.
In Tuesday’s incident, U.S. Capitol Police busted Christopher Carpenter of Stafford, Va., as he entered the Dirksen Senate Office Building. An X-ray machine detected a loaded 9mm Glock handgun stashed in Carpenter’s backpack. Stafford is a former U.S. Marine Master Sergeant who is a manager in the Senate ID Office. The ID shop is, ironically, under the aegis of the Senate Sergeant at Arms Office - which is in charge of security.
Sources described Carpenter as a “target practice enthusiastic who holds a concealed carry permit in Virginia where he lives. He doesn’t hold a license to carry a pistol in D.C.
Police charged Carpenter with carrying a gun on Capitol property and with possessing an unregistered firearm/ammunition. Police records indicate that Carpenter told officers he forgot to remove his handgun “when he left for work” on Tuesday.
Even though everyone knows you’re not supposed to bring a gun to the airport, the Transportation Security Administration seized 2,212 firearms last year. It ranged from tourists to pilots to flight attendants. In many instances, people know the rules. They simply forgot.
The Capitol makes for an appetizing target for terrorists. Yet virtually no one police arrested for toting a firearm to the Capitol appeared set on inflicting mayhem. In most cases, people just forgot they had the weapon on them.
In fact there have been so many incidents with people bringing guns to the halls of Congress that the Capitol Police Board (comprised of House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, Senate Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin and Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers) penned a memo to the congressional community this past June stressing that staffers must leave their weapons at home.
“Reminder about Certain Types of Prohibited Items,” read the subject line of the memorandum. The missive declared that USCP “are required to enforce District of Columbia statutes involving the ‘possession of weapons’ which may be considered legal in other pars of the United States and could result in arrest.”
The note listed everything from daggers to razors to brass knuckles - and of course “firearms regardless of whether a person has a permit to carry the firearm.”
Yet despite warnings, there seems to be an epidemic of guns showing up on Capitol Hill.
Among the most-notable incidents:
- USCP arrested Ryan Shucard in 2014 after he brought a 9mm Smith & Wesson to the Cannon House Office Building when he reported for work in the office of Rep. Tom Marino, R-Penn. Shucard later entered a plea agreement and is back to work in Marino’s office.
- In July, 2014, USCP arrested Ronald Prestage when he hauled a 9mm Ruger handgun in his bag as he entered the Cannon House Office Building. Prestage was the President-elect of the National Pork Producers Council.
- This past summer, USCP arrested Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Peter Boby as he tried to drive his vehicle into the Rayburn House Office Building garage. Police stopped Boby at a checkpoint outside the garage and unearthed a loaded .45 caliber handgun in the trunk of his car.
- At the time, Boby was part of a Congressional fellowship program and detailed to the office of Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., R-Calif. Boby had just been to a shooting range before returning for work. Hunter later said there was no reason to believe Boby intended to bring the firearm into Rayburn.
- Probably the most-noteworthy episode came when police charged Phillip Thompson, a top aide to then-Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., with bringing a loaded pistol into the Russell Senate Office Building in 2007. The gun actually belonged to Webb. Police discovered the gun in a briefcase Thompson carried into the building. U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman Kimberly Schneider said at the time that “I don’t think he intended to harm anybody.”
Capitol security officials say part of the problem is the proliferationof weapons in society.
Firearms are a conundrum for security officials at the Capitol.
U.S. Capitol Police carry them. Secret Service and Diplomatic Security Service officers are armed when they come to the Capitol. A number of lawmakers carry weapons for their own protection or stow them in their Capitol Hill offices. The latter phenomenon could be perceived as a double standard. In other words, why do Congressional security officials enforce Washington, DC’s local gun laws when
it comes to “civilians” but not when it comes to House and Senate members?
Either way, at least one lawmaker who didn’t want to be
identified said that Members of Congress should take it upon themselves to remind aides they simply can’t bring their firearms to the Capitol The member said it’s a different work environment at the Capitol and blamed lawmakers for not reinforcing the message among their aides.
But there’s another problem here. Consider that nearly every matter involving a staffer or someone bringing in a gun was an “honest mistake.” Then weigh this against the natural security threat facing the Capitol– particularly the heightened concerns after the Paris terrorist attacks and threats by ISIS to hit Washington. One Capitol Hill source knowledgeable with Congressional security told Fox it may be just a matter of time until one of these “honest mistakes” goes awry.
The source portrayed a scenario where an escalated security posture at the Capitol due to terrorism concerns could result in “something bad happening” - perhaps when USCP encounter the next “honest mistake” tucked away in a bag.
“Someone at some point is going to think the person is a threat or with ISIS or something,” said the source. “And then we’re going to have real problem here.”
There are currently tens of thousands of persons - ranging from legislative aides to Capitol Hill plumbers and electricians to journalists - who hold passes for virtually free access to the Congressional grounds. The Senate ID office issued many of those badges. So many disparate ID’s could create the potential for an “inside job.” In other words, if security officials permitted the firearms issues to slide, then who knows who might have a weapon inside the Capitol.
What would the outcome be if someone was determined to inflict havoc on America’s seat of government?
That’s why another source familiar with Congressional security said law enforcement can’t take a lax approach just because of “honest mistakes” - even if the person holds a hard pass to the Capitol grounds.
“Not in this place,” said the source.
Things haven’t worked out too well when people have made it into the U.S. Capitol with firearms. In 1954, Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the House chamber in protest, wounding five lawmakers on the floor. In 1998, Russell Weston Jr. shot and killed two U.S. Capitol Police officers when he stormed the building with a gun. The luckiest outcome with firearms came in 1835. Richard Lawrence tried to shoot President Andrew Jackson at the Capitol.
Lawrence brought two pistols with him. Both misfired when he tried to shoot the President at nearly point-blank range.
And that was anything but an “honest mistake.”