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Security holes at state capitols: Many allow guns inside, lack metal detectors

Mamos Media

Elaine S. Povich and Alex Brown  |  Pew/Stateline

Elaine S. Povich and Alex Brown  |  Pew/Stateline Show Caption

State capitols around the country remain on high alert following the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and as new threats surface online, but with less than two-thirds of them employing metal detectors, and about 20 statehouses specifically allowing guns inside, there are many security gaps that rioters could exploit.

Last week, as insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump broke through U.S. Capitol windows and ransacked congressional offices, like-minded protesters gathered at state capitols around the country. Most chanted, gave speeches and carried flags without much incident. But rioters cracked a window in Arizona and were dispersed by police in Oregon. Several statehouses shuttered for the day.

More violence is expected. In Washington state, where militia groups have planned to conduct an armed occupation of the Capitol this week, Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, has called in 750 National Guard members to provide security in Olympia. Perimeter fencing now surrounds the Capitol campus, less than a week after far-right demonstrators broke through a gate and stormed the grounds of the governor’s mansion. The occupation that organizers had called to begin Sunday evening has yet to materialize.

DC, statehouses urgently beef up security: Potential for violence looms ahead of inauguration

On social media, pro-Trump activists have threatened more action at state capitols in the coming days, including an “armed march” planned the weekend before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Many capitols already are temporarily inaccessible to the public because of COVID-19 concerns. But even after the violence in Washington, D.C., some stayed open, albeit with more screening of visitors or staff. And they can’t stay closed forever, even in the face of future mobs in or near capitol buildings.

“We are likely to see a continuation of some of the same things we saw

, particularly in state legislatures,” said Lindsay Schubiner, a program director for the Western States Center, a Portland-based nonprofit that monitors extremists.

“We’re deeply concerned for what’s likely to come in the coming months in state capitols,” she said. “There’s a real risk that this type of activity intended to undermine democracy will significantly have an impact on what state legislatures are able to do. It’s likely that state capitols will continue to be an epicenter of far-right organizing and activity. It’s quite frightening.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, tweeted Thursday: “Let me repeat this in no uncertain terms: Our state Capitol is not safe. I would advise people not to go to our state Capitol if they can avoid it.”

Firearm-carrying protesters besieged the Michigan Capitol last April, drawing national attention as they banged on windows as lawmakers worked inside. They included some of the men arrested this fall as members of the Wolverine Watchman group who police say threatened to kidnap and kill Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said attorney general spokesperson Kelly Rossman-McKinney.

The Capitol has already instituted many enhanced security measures including more cameras and more state police personnel, said John Truscott, vice-chair of the Michigan Capitol Commission. “We have always tried to maintain that this building is open to the public. How do we do that? That’s where the difficulty comes in.”

Michigan: Open carry of guns banned inside state Capitol

He also said the estimated cost of magnetometers and the personnel to run them is close to $1 million a year and could hamper entry for staffers.


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