U.S. Capitol Police are investigating a report that Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland was stopped outside the House chamber with a gun, the latest Republican lawmaker to run afoul of heightened security screening following the Jan. 6 Capitol siege.
An aide to the Baltimore County lawmaker said in a statement Friday that the congressman possesses a handgun permit, and suggested the weapon is intended for self-defense following a threat.
Bryan Shuy, Harris’ chief of staff, did not deny statements by a Capitol official and an eyewitness that Harris was stopped Thursday at a House checkpoint because he was carrying a gun.
A security official “saw a firearm on the person of Rep. Harris and relayed that to his superiors” as Harris sought to enter the chamber, said the Capitol official with knowledge of the events. “To be clear, Rep. Harris did not enter the floor,” said the official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
Shuy said Harris’ and his family’s lives “have been threatened by someone who has been released awaiting trial.”
Asked who made the threats, Harris spokesperson Walter Smoloski said he “can’t comment on who the statement refers to.”
The House placed metal detectors outside the chamber’s doors in the week after violent supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed and ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, threatening members and then-Vice President Mike Pence.
The rioters were trying to halt Congress from finalizing the Nov. 3 election results in which the Republican Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Once that session resumed, Harris was among the GOP members arguing on behalf of Trump’s unfounded contention that some election results should be dismissed because of fraud or other irregularities.
Members are permitted to carry guns on the Capitol grounds, including the building itself, but not in the chamber.
Harris “has never carried a firearm on the House floor,” Shuy’s statement said.
“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 statement said.
Thursday’s encounter was witnessed by Matt Fuller, a reporter for HuffPost. He tweeted that after Harris was refused entry, he asked Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko of New York “to take something from him.” Katko declined, saying “he doesn’t have a license,” according to Fuller’s tweets.
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Neither Katko nor his spokesperson responded to questions from The Baltimore Sun.
The U.S. Capitol Police department is looking into the matter, spokeswoman Eva Malecki told The Sun. She declined to answer questions, saying “we can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.”
Harris’ district includes the Hunt Valley area as well as other parts of northern Baltimore County, portions of Carroll and Harford counties, and the Eastern Shore. A decade after pledging to voters that he would serve no more than six terms if elected to Congress, Harris said recently that he plans to seek a seventh term.
After speaking with Katko, Harris “then left on the elevators and 10 minutes later returned to the House chamber,” according to Fuller’s article for HuffPost. “He placed his cellphone and keys on a desk to the side, did not set off the magnetometer and was allowed to enter the House floor.”
Enough Republican lawmakers have been flouting the metal detector rules that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Jan. 13 that members would be fined $5,000 in the future for refusing “to abide by these protections.” A second offense would carry a $10,000 fine. The levies would be deducted from their salaries, the speaker said.
Among those criticizing the rules is Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican who tweeted Jan. 3 that she would “carry my Glock to Congress.”
Harris, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who was endorsed by Trump, has earned high marks from the National Rifle Association for his gun rights votes. In 2013, he held a “Bring your own Gun” fundraiser, inviting participants to take target practice.