Being a politician is a dangerous job. Just this month we have seen the United States Capitol invaded by extremists, some even spotted carrying zip ties, presumably with the intent to kidnap members of our government. Some members of Congress are taking their safety into their own hands.
For instance, U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., has recently been looking to purchase body armor. He made this decision out of fear for personal safety after he voted to impeach former President Donald Trump. There are legitimate threats to the personal safety of members of Congress, and while enhanced U.S. Capitol Police presence around all members is absolutely necessary, we as a country need to decide if that is enough.
Security is like swiss cheese: you want to stack as many slices on top of each other as possible to cover the holes and mitigate risk. In light of the present danger, should members of Congress keep guns in their homes? Yes, and here is why.
If I wrote this article before Jan. 6, or five years from now, I would rightfully be called paranoid for making such a sweeping and extreme recommendation, but the dangerous moment we are living in merits an appropriate response. Guns are one of the most viscerally divisive issues on the modern American political landscape, so this piece deserves a short primer before we go any further. I myself am not a gun fanatic — I don’t own a gun, I have never shot a gun and I do not fantasize about overthrowing a tyrannical government with a gun. This piece does not reflect any views on background checks, mandatory waiting periods, red flag laws, restrictions on magazine size or restrictions on the types of guns a person should be allowed to have.
All I am trying to say is that if I had the opportunity, I would suggest that my congresswoman consider purchasing a gun for her home — not for the House floor or to carry on her hip at all times, but for those instances where a bodyguard may be too far away to prevent a tragedy.
A gun should by no means be the first line of defense, but should instead fill in the gaps left by a professional protective detail. Only the Speaker of the House, the House and Senate majority and minority leaders and the House and Senate whips have full-time, designated security details. That is only nine of 535 voting members of Congress who have personal protection 24 hours a day.
Many reading this, across the political spectrum, would agree this amount of protection is insufficient at this moment in history. Personal protective details have proven to be able to mitigate some risk. Take the attack on the Congressional baseball game in 2017, for instance. Though several congresspeople — including House Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. — were grievously injured, it would have been much worse had Scalise’s protective detail not been there, a privilege that was only afforded to him because he holds a leadership position in Congress.
Imagine you are a member of Congress. Imagine you have received death threats, have had people come to your home, had your place of work invaded and had your family jeopardized. Imagine that the people employed to secure your place of work, for whatever reason, have not been able to do their jobs to a satisfactory standard. Imagine — even if you are one of the lucky members who has 24-hour security — that you hear someone break into your home while you sleep. This is an uncommon, though very feared, scenario for most Americans, but is absolutely within the realm of possibility for our members of Congress in 2021. In the event of this nightmare, I want my Representative — and future Secretary of the Interior — Deb Haaland, D-N.M., to have the means to defend herself.
We should understand the counterargument to my line of thinking: Guns, statistically, don’t make people safer. There is a higher likelihood of the gun owner or their family injuring themselves than stopping an attacker. For every one fatal use of a gun in self-defense, there are two fatal gun accidents.
However, considering the credible threats against the lives and safety of our representatives, the calculus of safety looks much different for politicians than it does for the average American. If a member of Congress does want to utilize a gun for self-defense, the government should provide gun safety training for the member so that they can most effectively keep themselves safe.
Normally, progressives, like me, don’t find ourselves agreeing with Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. or Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C. Gun rights for members of Congress have recently been a Republican talking point, with Boebert petitioning to bring her Glock onto the floor of the House. But let’s think about it — even though Republicans are the most ardent gun supporters today, who would benefit from having a gun in their home the most? Democrats such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. and others are the recipients of the most ire from the mob who stormed the Capitol earlier this month, but are not provided with a 24/7 security detail.
We should of course draw a line at what is a reasonable bearing of arms. It is not reasonable for members of Congress to bring their firearms onto the floor of the House and Senate, considering the significant security measures that have been undertaken since the Jan. 6 riot. A gun can be a helpful tool, but it should be carried judiciously.
One politician who could be more amenable to a gun-oriented protection plan is Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Sanders has a record of much more moderate gun policies than one would expect from the well-established progressive. Some of his most notable dissents from the Democratic Party include his 1993 vote against a bill that mandated background checks for gun sales. In more recent years, Sanders has altered some of his positions on guns, but his dissents still serve as a demonstration that moderate views about gun control still have a place in the landscape of liberal thought.
In conversations about gun control, many people — both those in favor of gun control like myself, and those against it — can lose sight of what a gun is. A gun is neither a symbol of American hubris and disrespect for life nor a permanent protector of liberty and the American way. A gun is a tool used to accomplish a goal, like a jackhammer.
Usually, a gun isn’t the best tool to keep a home safe and will more likely hurt someone in an accident than stop a legitimate intruder — at least that’s the case for the average homeowner. Members of Congress are in a different situation altogether. They are under imminent threat from domestic terrorism, so guns pass back over the line from dangerous ornament to helpful tool. This is an atypical policy response from a progressive, but it could absolutely prevent another tragedy in a chaotic epoch.
Julian Barnard can be reached at email@example.com.
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