by Patrick Edwards

The U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6 and subsequent threats have inspired a debate over capitol security in statehouses around the country. The events of January 6 are only one example of an already tumultuous year of political violence directed at public buildings and officials. The global pandemic also led to a need for additional security measures to protect against COVID-19. To better understand how these factors have impacted states, analysts with The Council of State Governments (CSG) performed a comprehensive scan of state capitol security across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

CSG analysts found that significant policy differences exist between states on firearms permissions, security screenings and other security measures. Most capitols restrict the open and concealed carry of firearms and use both metal detectors and X-ray machines. However, seven statehouses permit both open and concealed carry and 13 use neither metal detectors nor X-ray machines.

Findings and Analysis

As of April 27, 2021, 28 state capitols and the Wilson Building (the Washington, D.C. capitol) are closed to the public. Of these 28 state capitols, 24 explicitly state that they are closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the time of this analysis, information was not publicly available for the remaining four closed capitols. However, our analysis indicates that these four capitols are also likely closed due to COVID-19. Finally, the District of Columbia Wilson Building is closed because the city council is not in session. Notably, no state capitols are closed due to threats of violence. This stands in stark contrast to the weeks following Jan. 6 when at least 19 states deployed National Guard troops to their capitols and several shut down statehouse grounds in response to the U.S. Capitol riot.

States also implemented temporary increases in security measures following the U.S. Capitol riot but later removed these as threats of violence failed to materialize. Out of the 10 states that explicitly reported that areas around their capitols were inaccessible in early January, only two — Arizona and Washington — continue to do so. This may be an undercount, as information is not publicly available for 40 states.

Similarly, 10 state capitols explicitly reported that they employed security fencing. Three of these, Minnesota, Oregon and South Carolina, left their fencing installed. As above, this may be an undercount: these 10 states are those that reported setting up and removing their fences.

 This indicates that the emphasis of capitol officials has shifted away from threats of political violence and back to the pandemic and traditional security.

34 states and Washington, D.C. prohibit the possession of firearms on capitol grounds, while 16 states permit the possession of personal firearms within their statehouses in some capacity. Citizens can use concealed carry in 14 of the 51 capitols (27%) and open carry in nine capitols (18%). Seven of the 14 capitols that permit concealed carry of firearms also allow open carry. Two states—Louisiana and Nebraska—permit open carry in their capitol complexes but prohibit concealed carry. Louisiana has no law restricting the open carry of firearms within its capitol. But while open carry is technically legal, online sources indicate that entering the capitol while brandishing a firearm will lead to arrest.

Most states prohibit the possession of firearms within their capitols, but a substantial minority do the opposite.

Another significant component of capitol security is the screening process — specifically, the use of metal detectors, X-rays, and required identification (ID).[1] Metal detectors are used to scan people (i.e., walk-through or handheld metal detectors. X-ray machines, however, scan personal items, packages, and the contents of each visitor’s pockets.

Thirty-seven capitols (37%, including the Washington D.C. city building) employ metal detectors at screening checkpoints in building entrances, and a further 31 capitols (61%), employ X-ray machines at entrances to scan all packages and personal items. Of the 18 state capitols that post their ID policy online, 10 required identification to enter their state houses.

Notably, a higher percentage of capitols that permit the open or concealed carry of firearms do not use metal detectors or X-rays compared to states that do not allow personal firearms on capitol grounds. 73% of all capitols use metal detectors, but only 50% of capitols that permit firearms use metal detectors. Similarly, 61% of all capitols use X-ray machines, but only 43% of capitols that allow personal firearms use X-ray machines. This suggests that states which permit personal firearms within their state houses may be less inclined to implement stronger security screening processes.

CSG identified several patterns between the law enforcement agencies that states entrust with protecting their capitol buildings. Twenty-one states delegate capitol security to capitol police divisions, and seven states delegate security to a division of the state’s highway patrol. Interestingly, Massachusetts delegates capitol security to park rangers in the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. All other states delegate security to unique subdivisions of each state’s primary police agency.

Method of Research

To conduct this research, CSG analysts gathered data from a variety of publicly available sources. Information on state capitol building firearm policy was primarily gathered from the Giffords Law Center’s Database of State Gun Laws and Michigan Advance’s Database of Capitol Building Firearm Policies. Most other data — including information on public access and security screening procedures —were gathered from statehouse websites or local news sources. This is not a comprehensive scan of all capitol security policies as some information is unavailable for most states. In particular, security measures like capitol fencing and ID requirements only reflect information that is publicly available online.

StateClosed to publicReason
Areas BlockedOpen CarryConceal
Alabama0N/A00011??????Capitol Patrol Unit4/13/2021
Alaska1COV-19???001001Security: Legislative Affairs Agency4/13/2021
Arizona1COV-191001100AZ Capitol Police4/15/2021
Arkansas1COV-190001001State Capitol Police4/14/2021
California1COV-19000110???CA Highway Patrol4/15/2021
Colorado0N/A0001100CO State Patrol4/13/2021
Connecticut1COV-1900011???0CT State Capitol Police4/15/2021
Delaware1COV-19???0011???1DE Capitol Police4/15/2021
Washington D.C.1Not Sess.???0011??????Protective Services Division4/15/2021
Florida1COV-19???0011??????Capitol Police4/15/2021
Georgia0N/A???0011???1Capitol Police4/15/2021
Hawaii1COV-19000000???Dept. of Public Safety’s Sheriff Div.4/15/2021
Idaho0N/A00000??????ID Capitol Mall Security4/15/2021
Illinois1COV-19???0011??????Secretary of State Capitol Police4/15/2021
Indiana0N/A???0011??????IN Capitol Police4/15/2021
Iowa0N/A???0111??????IA State Patrol Trooper 1’s4/26/2021
Kansas1COV-19???0111???1Capitol Police4/20/2021
Kentucky1COV-19???1110???1KY State Police Facilities Security4/20/2021
Louisiana0N/A???1011??????Dept. of Public Safety’s
Capitol Detail
Maine1COV-19???0011??????ME Bureau of Capitol Police4/21/2021
Maryland1COV-19???0011???1MD Capitol Police4/21/2021
Massachusetts1??????0010???0Dept. of Cons. & Rec’s Park Rangers4/20/2021
Michigan0N/A???0000??????MI State Police4/20/2021
Minnesota1??????01001???Capitol Security & Executive Protection4/26/2021
Mississippi0N/A???0011??????Capitol Police4/21/2021
Missouri0N/A???0111???0Capitol Police4/21/2021
Montana0N/A???0100??????MT Highway Patrol4/21.2021
Nebraska0N/A???1000??????NE State Patrol’s
Capitol Security Div.
Nevada1COV-19???0011??????Nevada Capitol Police4/21/2021
New Hampshire0N/A???1100??????State House Security4/22/2021
New Jersey1COV-19???0011???1NJ State Police4/22/2021
New Mexico1COV-19011000???NM State Police4/22/2021
New York1COV-19???0011???1NY State Police4/22/2021
North Carolina1COV-19???0011??????State Capitol Police4/22/2021
North Dakota0N/A???0011???0Capitol Security4/22/2021
Ohio1N/A???0011???0OH State Highway Patrol4/22/2021
Oklahoma0N/A???0011??????OK Highway Patrol’s
Capitol Patrol Section
Oregon1COV-19???11001???Oregon State Police4/23/2021
Pennsylvania0N/A???0011??????Capitol Police4/22/2021
Rhode Island1COV-19???0111??????RI Capitol Police4/23/2021
South Carolina0N/A???00101???State House Patrol Div.4/23/2021
South Dakota0??????0111???0Highway Patrol’s Capitol Protective Services Div.4/23/2021
Tennessee0N/A???0011???1Highway Patrol’s Capitol Protection Unit4/23/2021
Texas0N/A???1111??????Dept. of Public Safety’s
Capitol Region HQ
Utah0N/A???1100??????Highway Patrol’s State Capitol Security4/23/2021
Vermont1COV-19???0000??????Capitol Police Dept.4/23/2021
Virginia1??????0010??????VA Division of Capitol Police4/23/2021
Washington1COV-1911100??????WA State Patrol’s
Capitol Campus Detach.
West Virginia1COV-19???0011??????Division of Protective Services4/23/2021
Wisconsin1COV-19???0000??????WI State Capitol Police4/26/2021
Wyoming0N/A???0000??????WY State Capitol Police4/27/2021

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