GOP congressman stopped before bringing gun into House chamber

Fear, suspicion, distrust develop among members in aftermath of Capitol riot

Republican Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland is under federal investigation after he was stopped from entering the House chamber Thursday with a concealed handgun, according to reports citing an anonymous staffer with knowledge of the incident.

On his way to his seat, Harris set off a metal detector that had been installed after the deadly Jan. 6 uprising, and this led to a patdown by U.S. Capitol Police, The Washington Post reported.

“One security official present saw a firearm on the person of Rep. Harris and relayed that to his superiors,” the staffer said in a text message, according to the Post. “To be clear, Harris did not enter the floor.”

It was unclear whether the gun was loaded.

After security turned Harris away, he lolled near the elevators and at one point offered the weapon to Rep. John Katko, R-New York, but Katko refused to take it and told Harris he did not have “a license,” according to HuffPost congressional reporter Matt Fuller, who witnessed part of the incident.

Harris left the scene momentarily but returned later to the House floor after successfully clearing the magnetometer.

Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki confirmed the agency is “investigating the matter” but wouldn’t offer further details due to an active investigation.

Harris’ staff refused to answer questions about what happened and steered reporters instead to a prepared statement given the same day by Harris’ chief of staff Bryan Shuy.

“Because his and his family’s lives have been threatened by someone who has been released awaiting trial, for security reasons, the Congressman never confirms whether he nor anyone else he’s with are carrying a firearm for self-defense,” Shuy wrote to Fox Baltimore on Thursday night. “As a matter of public record, he has a Maryland Handgun Permit. And the congressman always complies with the House metal detectors and wanding. The Congressman has never carried a firearm on the House floor.”

Fear, suspicion

Congress members are not allowed to bring firearms into the House or Senate chambers, although they can keep guns in offices or have them on Capitol grounds as long as they are unloaded and stored securely. It’s also illegal for the general public to carry guns on Capitol grounds.

In the continued fallout since the riot, some members have attested to fear, suspicion and distrust developing among lawmakers, primarily around the issue of weapons being carried inside the Capitol.

The same evening of the Harris episode, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told CNN in an interview that, in general, she and other colleagues don’t feel safe.

“We still don’t yet feel safe around other members of Congress,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “One just tried to bring a gun on the floor of the House today.”

She also criticized Harris for trying to hand the gun off to someone else, saying no “responsible gun owner” would do such a thing “without clearing it” first.

Chris Cuomo asked Ocasio-Cortez if she believed Harris may have only intended to protect congressmembers in the wake of a deadly riot.

“I don’t really care what they say their intentions are. I care what the impact of their actions are and the impact is to put 435 members of Congress in danger,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The moment you bring a gun onto the House floor in violation of rules you put everyone around you in danger. It is irresponsible. It is reckless, but beyond that, it is in violation of rules.”

Republican freshman Congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina also admitted that he had a gun on the House floor during the riot.

“Fortunately, I was armed, so we would have been able to protect ourselves,” Cawthorn told the Rocky Mountain News the day after the riot..

It was unclear whether the weapon was loaded, and no one in Cawthorn’s camp has come forward yet to answer if the Congressman had any special permission to be armed that day.

On Jan. 6, Cawthorn spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally, where he and other Republicans, including the president, continued to push baseless voter fraud claims and encouraged the crowd to fight before hundreds went on to storm the Capitol. “There is a new Republican Party on the rise that will represent this country, that will go and fight in Washington, D.C.,” Cawthorn told the crowd. “My friends, I encourage you, continue to make your voice heard, because, do we love Donald Trump?”

The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan federal watchdog agency, is looking into whether any congressmembers fomented or helped plan the attack after reports of unauthorized guided tours that were given the day before the uprising.

Staff for Massachusetts Democrat Ayanna Pressley also reported that emergency panic buttons were inexplicably “torn out” and removed from her office, presumably so help couldn’t be called during the chaos — although no proof of a conspiracy has been uncovered.

Freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado, who declared she would carry her Glock handgun in Congress as a statement on the 2nd Amendment, reportedly would not let officers search her bag after setting off metal detectors on Jan. 12, the Post reported.

She and other Republicans have expressed outrage about the installation of the metal detectors and in some cases have blown through them and refused to cooperate with searches after setting them off, the Post reported.

Democrats, still holding a majority in the House, could seek to pass an amended rule in February to fine lawmakers $5,000 if they refuse to cooperate with a metal detector screening, according to the Post. A second offense would bring a $10,000 fine.

The Capitol riot

The episode involving Harris happened just more than two weeks after supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed Congress in an attempt to forcibly overthrow a vote to confirm Joe Biden’s election win.

The rioters were incited by months of false claims by Trump and others in the GOP who spread the unfounded notion that widespread voter fraud got Biden elected and cheated the incumbent out of a second term.

However, judges across the country — including many appointed by Trump — dismissed at least 60 cases that sought to upend the election results, citing lack of evidence. The Supreme Court also twice refused to take up the issue.

Congressional offices and chambers were ransacked as the crowd chanted “Kill Mike Pence!”

Lawmakers hid the Electoral College ballots and took shelter from the angry mob. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer. A Georgia man who participated in the insurrection later died by suicide.

Hundreds of suspects have been arrested since the riot including several members of violent right-wing extremist groups including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.