- - Sunday, December 16, 2018

Letting legislators bring guns onto the U.S. Capitol grounds or into their offices hasn’t been a problem for 242 years. But Democrats are now promising to end that practice when they retake control of the House of Representatives next month.

Congressman Jared Huffman, California Democrat, claims that the shooting attack against Republicans in 2017 convinced him of the need for a change. Mr. Huffman worries that “our political climate is too volatile” for legislators to carry guns. Mr. Huffman now has the support of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, also a California Democrat, who has vowed to change the policy if she becomes House speaker in January.

Mr. Huffman has the problem backward. The Republican legislators only survived the shooting at their baseball practice because of Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s security detail, to which the Louisiana Republican was entitled as a member of the House leadership. There would have been a horrible massacre if not for the Capitol Police.

At least five of the congressmen had concealed handgun permits from their home states. At least one aide also revealed that he had a permit. Others may be reluctant to announce publicly that they carry, since it’s better that potential attackers do not know who is armed. When attackers know who is armed, they know who to shoot first. Uniformed police are practically wearing a neon sign flashing: “I have a gun. Shoot me first.”

But the District of Columbia’s gun regulations meant that no one had a permitted, concealed handgun at the congressional baseball practice. Virginia, where the attack occurred, honors permits from every other state. But as Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama told me last year: “My residence is in the District of Columbia, which means that it would have been illegal for me to take my weapon with me to the ballpark — about a 9-mile bike ride — and it would have also been illegal for me to come from Virginia back into D.C. with my weapon.”

The problem with gun-free zones, which ban law-abiding civilians from carrying, is that they don’t scare off criminals. They have just the opposite effect. Disarming our legislators on their way to and from the Capitol buildings leaves easy targets to criminals and terrorists.

Mrs. Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders with security details won’t have too much to worry about, but the rule change will prevent rank-and-file members from protecting themselves and their staff.

The United States has more than 17.3 million handgun permit holders — about 7.2 percent of the 21-and-over population. How do Mr. Clemmons and other Democrat lawmakers ever go to a mall, a restaurant, or a movie theater?

The U.S. Capitol’s existing rules aren’t an anomaly, and places with even more liberal regulations haven’t experienced problems. At least 21 states allow some form of permitted handgun carry within public areas of their legislative bodies.

For example, Kentucky allows permitted concealed carry in legislative areas, including the state capitol. You must carry your gun openly if you attend a legislative meeting, though no permit is required.

In Texas, any concealed handgun permit holder can carry in the state capitol. Registered permit holders get to skip the metal detector, since they have already passed a criminal background check. After a while, lobbyists and journalists figured this out and got their own permits.

While Democrats are concerned that guns in capitol buildings will be used to purposefully kill people, all they have been able to dig up is a single accidental discharge in Kentucky in January 2014. No one was harmed.

Since 1950, 98 percent of America’s public mass shootings have occurred in areas where guns are prohibited to the general public. In Europe, every mass shooting has happened in a gun-free zone.

Police are critical. Indeed, they are probably the single most important factor in reducing crime. But uniformed police have an extremely difficult job stopping terrorists, as they are often the first targets in any attack. The Capitol tries to solve this problem by having a lot of police, but anyone who has walked the halls of Congress knows that the Capitol Police aren’t everywhere.

Advocates of gun-free zones claim that permit holders will accidentally shoot bystanders. Or they say that arriving police will shoot the permit holders.

Concealed carry holders have stopped innumerous mass public shootings in malls, churches, schools, universities and busy downtowns. Not once have these permit holders ever shot a bystander. Police virtually always arrive well after the attack has ended, so there isn’t confusion about who to shoot.

Gun-free zones are magnets for murderers. Even most ardent gun-control advocates would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on their homes. Let’s stop putting them elsewhere.

It isn’t right for any of our senators or congressmen to be sitting ducks. We lucked out at the baseball field in June 2017, but next time we may not be so lucky. A devastating massacre could tear apart the fabric of our country and deter a lot of good people from entering politics.

• John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recently of “The War on Guns.”

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