On the day Congress gathered to formalize the election of the next president, the world watched as aggressive mobs looted and ransacked the U.S. Capitol with only gentle police pushback. Many observers commented that rabbles freely rioting in the halls of Congress showed a blatant double standard in the police response to the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, who were met with 14,000 arrests, military intervention, and the spraying of rubber bullets and PepperBalls.
But, there’s another double standard, says Kris Brown, president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence. The system allows one set of rules for those with guns, and a different set for those without. The event was a manifestation of the National Rifle Association’s explicit goal, that “the guys with the guns make the rules.”
Brady, and other gun reform groups like Everytown, have done extensive research to conclude that the Second Amendment has become a central part of the far-right insurrectionist movement. The mobs often call themselves “militias,” saying their mission it is to take up arms and overthrow a tyrannical government. “That doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Brown says. The NRA has been disseminating this message for two decades, as a wily way to sell guns to “paranoid” and “disenfranchised” people. This specific brand of domestic terrorism has consistently been “emboldened by a gun lobby.”
Days before the chaos, according to The Washington Post, it became clear from discussions on far-right internet forums that mobs would transport guns with them to Washington D.C., which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. That was correct: during and after the mayhem, arrests were made for weapons possession, and authorities recovered at least five handguns and long guns from the scene.
When firearms are present at a protest, it heightens fear in responders and can lead to rash decisions. The fear of guns begets more guns, leading to a Wild West-esque standoff on the House floor, as Capitol Police openly pointed guns at intruders, and eventually shooting and killing one protestor. Other members of the police force have been criticized for retreating or simply standing by. But would they have been more confident in deescalating had they been sure that protestors were unarmed?
Without the fear of the presence of guns, tenants of nearby buildings would likely not have had to be warned to evacuate. Commentators have compared the atmosphere in the government building with that of a school in lockdown with a shooter on the loose, with fearful politicians cowering on the floor and texting emotional messages to loved ones. “They would not have felt that way if they didn’t believe that these people had guns,” Brown says.
Gun laws are relatively tight in the nation’s capital. Open carry is forbidden; concealed carry is only allowed with a permit from D.C., and not from any other state. Guns must be registered, and there’s an assault weapons ban in place. The Capitol itself is a gun-free zone. (Which is why, earlier this week, D.C.’s chief of police said he planned to inform Lauren Boebert, an incoming Colorado congresswoman who claimed she would be bringing her Glock to work, that she would face penalties if she did so.)
Of course, the far-right mobs ignored those laws, and the Capitol’s metal detectors, by smashing the windows and climbing through. But, gun laws still matter, Brady says, certain that the damage would have been a lot worse had laws been looser. In May, disrupters in Michigan, an open-carry state, marched into the State Capitol to protest pandemic lockdowns, armed with semi-automatic rifles, which are typically rigged to fire rapidly. “If we had had that scene yesterday,” she says, “it would have been absolutely lethal.”
In the eight months since that incident, tensions have intensified, largely due to the inflammatory rhetoric from the top. “You can’t divorce Trump from this,” Brown says, saying that the president has been verbally “raising the temperature” and inciting the rage—as have the actions of the objecting lawmakers, like Cruz and Hawley, by imposing flagrant lies on people. “Elected officials who are Trump’s enablers and have aided and abetted the President in his actions share responsibility for today’s violence,” reads an official statement by the Brady group. “When you combine all of that with a gun,” Brown says, “there’s only one natural result that will ensue.”