The ‘Jan. 6’ Effect Sends Tremors Through State Capitols

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Scene from Jan 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Greenpeace USA via Flickr.

State governments across the country are balancing the need for public access to capital buildings and security in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Pew Charitable Trusts reports.  

The state of Oregon has already experienced some of the spin-off effects. Earlier this month, the state legislature expelled one of its members for “knowingly shepherding rioters into the Capitol in Salem last December.”

On the same day,  a study by the Western States Center think tank cautioned that dissatisfaction with democracy — and the tacit accommodation of hate groups — could lead to further attacks at state capitols. 

Adding to the concern, the January 2021 American Perspectives Survey by the American Enterprise Institute, a right-of-center think tank, found that nearly three in 10 Americans, including 39 percent of Republicans, agreed that “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.”

Because of this significant number of people essentially justifying use of force in America’s politics, many advocates argue that state capitols and leaders would be wise to reassess their security as they reopen. 

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, suggested it’s not just officials at state capitols who need to reassess their security—local and county government buildings are vulnerable too, he expressed to Pew.

He suggested that officials at all levels maintain some kind of “perimeter protection” around public buildings, with limited entry and exit points for controlled surveillance.

“That can be done in a way so it doesn’t look like a fortress. Spacing, video surveillance and making sure people aren’t armed,” Levin explained. “We’re seeing contentious standing room-only meetings at the county level as well.”

Others, like Lindsay Schubiner, program director for the Western States Center, say “it’s a difficult thing to balance,” and adds that tamping down potential violence from violent extremists across the political spectrum will take more than physical barriers. 

Schubiner added that lawmakers can help by “speaking out clearly whenever this type of bigotry arises.”

Guns in Statehouses

In Oregon, the existing Capitol rules that allowed for “open and concealed carrying of guns if the carrier has the proper license” won’t last long, as Governor Kate Brown signed a bill June 1 to prohibit firearms on the Capitol grounds, while also setting rules for gun storage in homes, Pew details.

“Today, I am signing SB 554 with the hope that we can take another step forward to help spare more Oregon families from the grief of losing a loved one to gun violence. Thank you,” she tweeted.

The latest change will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns, slated for June 28. 

Overall, gun policies in state capitols, even after the January riot in Washington, remain split, Pew researchers detail. 

About 30 state capitols employ metal detectors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. To that end, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, a pro-gun research group, about 23 capitols officially allow carrying legal firearms inside, Pew uncovered. 

The Michigan Capitol modified its gun regulations this past January immediately following the insurrection, now unanimously prohibiting openly carrying firearms in the building, yet permitting the carry of guns on Capitol grounds. Anyone who wishes to conceal carry inside the Capitol must follow the state’s rules for concealed weapons. 

Some of Michigan’s top Democrats are calling for further action, but commissioners said the open carry ban was as far as they could go, CBS News details. 

Other State Capitol Reopenings

A few weeks ago, as Arizona’s State Capitol has reopened to the public, small groups of roughly two dozen people — including representatives from activists groups Arizona NORML and Our Arizona — have protested the state’s “social equity” marijuana rules. 

The protest surrounding the rules stems from the fact that advocates say the licenses for marijuana dispensaries are supposed to go to communities disproportionately affected by marijuana prohibition – but because of the lottery system and non-refundable $5,000 application fee to enter, it’s actually a further disadvantage for those communities.

Other states have had uneventful reopenings.

Tuesday, June 15, was supposed to be the grand reopening of the entire State of California, as well as the California State Capitol.

However, as the California Globe reported Monday, “legislative leaders appear to be reluctant to allow the State Capitol to fully reopen and return to normal” in an apparent mix of motives stemming from the insurrection for safety and the pandemic for the same reason. 

Nothing has really changed at the Capitol, other than the chain link fencing has been removed,” the California Globe reporter wrote. “Masks are still mandatory, legislators’ offices aren’t open, lobbyists aren’t filling the hallways negotiating with each other and lawmakers, and permission to enter the Capitol is required.”

While California residents are just now getting access to their state’s Capitol, Floridians have had access to their state capital since May. 

The Florida Capitol building was closed for nearly 14 months, and at the time of it’s reopening during the week of May 17, required a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination to enter the building, according to WFSU News.

Advocates have been happy to see their doors reopening, as many have noted that the lack of public access to the building and the grounds during the legislative session has made it easier for the Republican-controlled legislature to pass controversial bills. 

“It allowed the conditions to be there to get bills passed faster and with less controversy, which makes the process less deliberate,” Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, told WFSU News reporters. “There probably were some big bills where we should have been more deliberate, should have slowed down and taken in more public comment.”

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