You Can Bring Gun to Capitol, but Not Through D.C.

Phillip Thompson, left, aide to Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), and attorney Richard Gardner leave a D.C. court Tuesday. Thompson was arrested Monday.
Phillip Thompson, left, aide to Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), and attorney Richard Gardner leave a D.C. court Tuesday. Thompson was arrested Monday. (By Lauren Victoria Burke -- Associated Press)
By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 29, 2007

Members of Congress and designated employees can bring unloaded guns into the Capitol. The lawmakers can even load the guns once inside their offices.

But there is a hitch: They cannot bring guns through the District's streets on their way to the Capitol grounds.

The arrest this week of Phillip Thompson, an aide to Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) who carried a loaded pistol into a Senate office building, brought to light a contradiction between the regulations governing the Capitol grounds and the laws covering District streets.

The Capitol grounds are federal property and not subject to the District's strict gun laws, which generally prohibit firearms.

Although some people are allowed to bring guns into the Capitol, they cannot legally get them there, said Lt. Jon Shelton, the longtime head of the D.C. police department's gun unit.

"They can't helicopter them in," Shelton said.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer said he would advise lawmakers to "abide by D.C. laws" when not on Capitol grounds. He said members of Congress who want guns at the Capitol should ask police to transport the weapons for them.

It is not known how many members of Congress have guns in the Capitol. They do not have to pass through metal detectors, like everybody else, when they enter the Capitol buildings.

Thompson, 45, was arrested Monday at the Russell Senate Office Building after Capitol police spotted the loaded pistol and ammunition in a briefcase he was carrying. He has told authorities that the gun belonged to Webb and that he was "safekeeping" it for him. He was charged with carrying a pistol without a license and other offenses.

Webb, who took office in January, has expressed support for Thompson, his executive assistant. But Webb has declined to provide the public with the details of what happened and would not say this week whether the gun is his. Webb said he has never carried a gun in the Capitol complex.

Capitol Police Board regulations permit staff members to bring unloaded guns on the grounds but only if they are acting as "agents" of House members or senators. Only members of Congress can have loaded guns, and only in their offices, Gainer said.

In the District, handguns are not allowed on the streets unless carried by law enforcement personnel and some private security officers. Shotguns and rifles are allowed in homes only if the owners have permits. The only reason a person may legally transport a rifle or a shotgun is if they are going to a recreational activity.

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