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After Violent Mobs In D.C., Michigan Bans Open Carry In State Capitol

Armed protesters congregate at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on Oct. 17. On Monday, the Michigan State Capitol Commission voted to ban open carry in common areas of the building.
Jeff Kowalsky
AFP via Getty Images
Armed protesters congregate at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on Oct. 17. On Monday, the Michigan State Capitol Commission voted to ban open carry in common areas of the building.

The commission that manages the common areas of the Michigan State Capitol adopted a policy Monday that bans openly carrying guns throughout much of the building, but with little hope that the decision satisfies the needs of many.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission voted 6-0 to adopt the new policy following the armed assault on the U.S. Capitol last week and protesters with guns swarming the statehouse last April.

Under the new policy, only law enforcement personnel and people with valid concealed-weapon permits may openly carry a gun into the Capitol. The commission opted against stricter prohibitions, arguing that its power to adopt a full ban appears sketchy and that it has no budget to take actions such as installing metal detectors at public entrances.

"We have no authority to implement the infrastructure to go beyond that at this point," said Commissioner William Kandler. "We have no budget. We're not experts in security."

The decision was widely panned and faintly praised.

"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," said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a statement released by her office. "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."

Whitmer was the target of an alleged plot to kidnap and execute her over COVID-19 restrictions. According to investigators, some of those indicted in that alleged plot had met at the April protest in Lansing.

"Armed protesters used our state Capitol for a spring dress rehearsal for what went on in Washington, D.C. last week," said state Rep. Brenda Carter, a Democrat. "The ban on open carry firearms is long overdue and it is my hope we see further action."

Incoming Republican House Speaker Jason Wentworth said he thinks the commission exceeded its authority. In a statement released by his office, he said:

"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 at the Capitol, Speaker Wentworth asks everyone to respect the Michigan State Police and the rules they enforce."

Wentworth's spokesman said the GOP leader is considering next steps, such as introducing a bill to outline the rules (which would be subject to a veto by the governor) or filing a lawsuit to challenge the commission's authority.

But Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, says the commission has the authority and should go further than the rule adopted Monday.

"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," she said. "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."

Copyright 2021 Michigan Radio

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.