LANSING, Mich. (NewsNation Now) — 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.
The ban passed unanimously in a brief meeting.
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 it shifted course Monday and issued the order to ban the open carrying of weapons.
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.
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.
Democratic legislators want the policy to ban all firearms, not just open carry.
Gov. Whitmer praised the ban in a Monday statement, calling it a “good start” but adding that “more action is needed.” She called for a ban of all weapons, including concealed weapons.
“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 protesters 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
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, also a Democrat, agreed the ban is “not enough” to keep everyone in the Capitol safe:
“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
Sen. Dayna Polehanki has 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.”
But the head of the Capitol Commission previously said a complete ban is easier said than done:
“In order to do a total ban would require a huge expenditure,” Commission Chair Gary Randall told NewsNation affiliate WOOD-TV. “We are not in a position to do that right now. But this is the preventive step and it’s the one that most people have expressed concern about and that is people coming into the Capitol with automatic weapons and heavy armory.”
Speaker of the House-elect Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, said in a statement that the Capitol Commission “does not have the authority to set policy in the Capitol.” He said he was “looking at options for handling that moving forward” but that for now, Michigan State Police will enforce the ban.
“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.”SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE-ELECT JASON WENTWORTH
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WOOD contributed to this report.