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). 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.
|State||Closed to public||Reason|
|Areas Blocked||Open Carry||Conceal|
|Alabama||0||N/A||0||0||0||1||1||???||???||Capitol Patrol Unit||4/13/2021|
|Alaska||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||0||0||1||Security: Legislative Affairs Agency||4/13/2021|
|Arizona||1||COV-19||1||0||0||1||1||0||0||AZ Capitol Police||4/15/2021|
|Arkansas||1||COV-19||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||State Capitol Police||4/14/2021|
|California||1||COV-19||0||0||0||1||1||0||???||CA Highway Patrol||4/15/2021|
|Colorado||0||N/A||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||CO State Patrol||4/13/2021|
|Connecticut||1||COV-19||0||0||0||1||1||???||0||CT State Capitol Police||4/15/2021|
|Delaware||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||1||???||1||DE Capitol Police||4/15/2021|
|Washington D.C.||1||Not Sess.||???||0||0||1||1||???||???||Protective Services Division||4/15/2021|
|Hawaii||1||COV-19||0||0||0||0||0||0||???||Dept. of Public Safety’s Sheriff Div.||4/15/2021|
|Idaho||0||N/A||0||0||0||0||0||???||???||ID Capitol Mall Security||4/15/2021|
|Illinois||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||1||???||???||Secretary of State Capitol Police||4/15/2021|
|Indiana||0||N/A||???||0||0||1||1||???||???||IN Capitol Police||4/15/2021|
|Iowa||0||N/A||???||0||1||1||1||???||???||IA State Patrol Trooper 1’s||4/26/2021|
|Kentucky||1||COV-19||???||1||1||1||0||???||1||KY State Police Facilities Security||4/20/2021|
|Louisiana||0||N/A||???||1||0||1||1||???||???||Dept. of Public Safety’s|
|Maine||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||1||???||???||ME Bureau of Capitol Police||4/21/2021|
|Maryland||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||1||???||1||MD Capitol Police||4/21/2021|
|Massachusetts||1||???||???||0||0||1||0||???||0||Dept. of Cons. & Rec’s Park Rangers||4/20/2021|
|Michigan||0||N/A||???||0||0||0||0||???||???||MI State Police||4/20/2021|
|Minnesota||1||???||???||0||1||0||0||1||???||Capitol Security & Executive Protection||4/26/2021|
|Montana||0||N/A||???||0||1||0||0||???||???||MT Highway Patrol||4/21.2021|
|Nebraska||0||N/A||???||1||0||0||0||???||???||NE State Patrol’s|
Capitol Security Div.
|Nevada||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||1||???||???||Nevada Capitol Police||4/21/2021|
|New Hampshire||0||N/A||???||1||1||0||0||???||???||State House Security||4/22/2021|
|New Jersey||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||1||???||1||NJ State Police||4/22/2021|
|New Mexico||1||COV-19||0||1||1||0||0||0||???||NM State Police||4/22/2021|
|New York||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||1||???||1||NY State Police||4/22/2021|
|North Carolina||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||1||???||???||State Capitol Police||4/22/2021|
|North Dakota||0||N/A||???||0||0||1||1||???||0||Capitol Security||4/22/2021|
|Ohio||1||N/A||???||0||0||1||1||???||0||OH State Highway Patrol||4/22/2021|
|Oklahoma||0||N/A||???||0||0||1||1||???||???||OK Highway Patrol’s|
Capitol Patrol Section
|Oregon||1||COV-19||???||1||1||0||0||1||???||Oregon State Police||4/23/2021|
|Rhode Island||1||COV-19||???||0||1||1||1||???||???||RI Capitol Police||4/23/2021|
|South Carolina||0||N/A||???||0||0||1||0||1||???||State House Patrol Div.||4/23/2021|
|South Dakota||0||???||???||0||1||1||1||???||0||Highway Patrol’s Capitol Protective Services Div.||4/23/2021|
|Tennessee||0||N/A||???||0||0||1||1||???||1||Highway Patrol’s Capitol Protection Unit||4/23/2021|
|Texas||0||N/A||???||1||1||1||1||???||???||Dept. of Public Safety’s|
Capitol Region HQ
|Utah||0||N/A||???||1||1||0||0||???||???||Highway Patrol’s State Capitol Security||4/23/2021|
|Vermont||1||COV-19||???||0||0||0||0||???||???||Capitol Police Dept.||4/23/2021|
|Virginia||1||???||???||0||0||1||0||???||???||VA Division of Capitol Police||4/23/2021|
|Washington||1||COV-19||1||1||1||0||0||???||???||WA State Patrol’s|
Capitol Campus Detach.
|West Virginia||1||COV-19||???||0||0||1||1||???||???||Division of Protective Services||4/23/2021|
|Wisconsin||1||COV-19||???||0||0||0||0||???||???||WI State Capitol Police||4/26/2021|
|Wyoming||0||N/A||???||0||0||0||0||???||???||WY State Capitol Police||4/27/2021|