LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — A state panel on Monday banned the open carry of guns in Michigan’s Capitol, a week after an armed mob rioted in the U.S. Capitol and following a plot last year to storm the statehouse.
Moves to ban weapons at the statehouse have been pushed since April, when protesters opposed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions, some armed with long rifles and other weapons, entered the Michigan Capitol demanding to be allowed onto the floor of a legislative chamber that was closed to the public.
The Michigan State Capitol Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the Capitol, had been reluctant to issue rules for firearms but shifted course Monday and issued the order to ban the open carrying of weapons.
“I voted yes,” Capitol Commission member Joan Bauer told News 8. “I was very pleased to vote yes, but it’s the first step.”
Bauer said she wants her colleagues to ban all weapons, explaining that concealed weapons are still allowed in the Capitol.
“They can ban all weapons; I wish that they would do that,” Bauer said. “They can appropriate the money to do that, so I would urge them to do it.”
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who previously said the commission shouldn’t be responsible for creating weapons policies, said last week that he would support an open carry ban after violence erupted at the U.S. Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters.
A spokeswoman for incoming House Speaker Jason Wentworth said he wants everyone to abide by the rule, even though he doesn’t believe the commission had the right to issue it.
“The Speaker is grateful for the work of the Capitol Commission, but it does not have the authority to set policy in the Capitol. The Speaker will be looking at options for handling that moving forward. In the meantime, the Michigan State Police will be enforcing the new ruling. In order to ensure there is no confusion in the Capitol, Speaker Wentworth asks everyone to respect the Michigan State Police and the rules they enforce.”Lynn Afendoulis for Speaker of the House-elect Jason Wentworth, Jan. 11, 2021
Commission Vice Chair John Truscott said the commission doesn’t write policy but is ready to address general security issues. He said state government will have to fund it.
“We don’t have a budget for security measures, so in reality, the governor and Legislature would have to deal with it,” Truscott said. “We’ve gone as far as we can go with the budget constraints we have.”
Some of the anti-government extremists accused in a plot to kidnap Whitmer had carried guns at lockdown protests at the Capitol last spring. Prosecutors say the accused ringleader initially talked of recruiting 200 men to storm the building, take hostages and “execute tyrants.” A secondary plan involved locking exits and setting the statehouse on fire, according to court documents.
The kidnapping plot and the April protest make the issue personal for state Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing. In the days following the armed protest, she was so afraid that she had a group of armed men and women escort her to and from work.
“I really had hoped they would go further,” Anthony said of the commission. “I shouldn’t have to worry about my personal safety and whether armed gunman are going to storm into our building; I want to be focused on the issues of the day.”
The FBI has warned of plans for armed protests at all state capitals and in Washington D.C. in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Michigan State Police will increase its visible and unseen presence at the Capitol for the next couple weeks, spokeswoman Shanon Banner said in an email Monday.
The Michigan Democratic Party issued a statement saying that though it applauds the commission for “finally put their authority to use,” it is not enough and that all firearms should be banned inside the Capitol.
“No lawmaker, reporter, staff member, or anyone who works in the Michigan Capitol should fear for their safety at work. But in the past year, we have seen a rapid rise in violent rhetoric and threats to public safety that require our immediate action. In April of 2020, armed protestors stormed the Michigan Capitol and stood in the gallery, long guns in hand, looking to intimidate legislators doing their job to serve the people of Michigan. And last week, we saw an armed insurgency occur in our nation’s capitol. This cannot stand. We must take immediate action to protect everyone who steps foot in our state Capitol.
“The Capitol Commission’s action to ban open carry guns at the Capitol is a good start, but more action is needed. On a normal day, hundreds of people walk through the Capitol, including groups of fourth graders, teachers, and parents on school field trips to learn about state government. That’s why we must take action to ban all weapons at the Capitol to keep Michiganders safe. I am hopeful that the Capitol Commission will recognize the need for further action, and I stand ready to assist in implementing this policy to keep Michiganders safe.”Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Jan. 11, 2021
Sen. Dayna Polehanki pushed an effort to ban all firearms from the Capitol by introducing legislation last year that died in session. The Livonia Democrat said Monday before the panel vote that an open carry ban does not go far enough and will lead to a false sense of security for those who work at and visit the Capitol.
“Bullets are bullets,” she said no matter what kind of gun a person brings.
“There is no reason any gun belongs in the Capitol, it’s absurd, the world thinks it’s absurd,” Polehanki said. “It sickens me that this is even being considered as a viable action.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, also a Democrat, agreed, telling News 8 that the open carry ban is not enough.
“I don’t know how much more it will possibly take,” Nessel said. “I mean, unfortunately, I assume we are going to have to have a deadly incident have to occur at the Capitol to inspire those same lawmakers to actually do something.”
“Though I appreciate the Commission’s decision today to prohibit the open carry of firearms, it’s only a single step down the long path of reforms that are necessary to make our legislators, state employees and visitors safe in our state Capitol. Firearms – whether explicitly visible or concealed by clothing – possess the same capability to inflict injury and harm on others and only banning open carry does little to meaningfully improve the safety and security of our Capitol. I urge the Commission or our Legislature to take the proper action and pass the necessary reforms that truly take into account the safety of those visiting and working in our Capitol. Today’s actions are simply not enough to do that.”Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Jan. 11, 2021
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Associated Press writer David Eggert contributed to this report.