Opinion | Guns and screaming at Michigan Capitol drown out message of protest

A protest of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order made national news last week when militia members carrying firearms entered the Michigan Capitol. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

Last week’s rally at the Michigan Capitol was intended to be a peaceful event. It was meant to  demonstrate the power of the First Amendment, and maybe even the Second. The people own this government and they should have a say in it. They have the right to assemble, and they have the God-given right to tell us what’s on their minds.

Ken Horn is a Republican senator from Frankenmuth who chairs the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee.

The problem, as I see it, is that you will never remember what the message that frustrated Michiganders were trying to convey, because of the ugly nature of some of the protesters. Honestly, I’m not afraid of guns and open-carry, I grew up with guns in the house and on the farm. 

The problem quickly reveals itself when you combine guns, anger and ignorance. When you see people with long rifles screaming at the top of lungs, it shows the ugly side of civilization.

Some of my colleagues felt unsafe. I truly regret that part of it. Honestly I didn’t, because I trust the men and women we ask to protect us and the public. Having said that, what they put our Senate police, the House sergeants and the Michigan State Police through is an outrage. Our guys handled this day with poise and grace. But as an old bar owner, I know exactly how on-edge they must have been.

What is unforgivable, however, is the fact that the frustrated voices of the average citizen-demonstrator will go unheard, because of the noise these ready-for-violence protesters stirred up. To anyone reading, can we say that this rally served its purpose as you see photos of nooses and screaming people? To those that shouted angry messages at us from the Senate gallery, do you think you changed any minds?

I’ll tell you what I’ve told several Lansing leaders; if you want to lead, if you want me to follow you, you don’t need to give me something. Don’t ever threaten me, ‘cause that’s when the ‘ol bar bouncer comes out in me. If you want me to help you or follow your lead. .. inspire me!

I was not inspired by the senseless, ugliness of the few angry-mob types.

I believe that the Legislature has a rightful constitutional place in leading this state, even in a crisis such as this. I think that two heads are better than one in solving a problem. I wish our governor felt the same way, but I’m willing to take on the peaceful task of restoring checks and balances in Michigan government.

We can lean on each other. We can solve big problems together. We are Michigan Strong. Let’s keep it that way!

Editors's note: This column is an edited version of a Facebook post from Sen. Ken Horn.

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A Fussman
Sun, 05/03/2020 - 2:23pm

I’m glad you don’t condone the protestors, but I think you miss one very important point. They weren’t there in support of their first or second amendment rights. They were there to instill fear and openly display their racism, bigotry, and anger at people with different views. They obviously didn’t care if they infected others either. So don’t sugar coat what they did in the name of good intentions. And, unlike you, I am very afraid of guns and concerned what open carry of assault weapons teaches our children.

P Zang
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 9:34am

A Fussman - My thoughts exactly. Thank you for articulating your response so clearly.

Marcia M
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 5:55pm

Likewise, thank you.

Phooey to that
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 5:49pm

Yes, please don't sugar coat it. Like Shirkey said, they were "jackasses". Can't put lipstick on pigs.

Rodger kershner
Sun, 05/03/2020 - 3:01pm

Good for you Senator. A voice of reason.

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 4:29pm

Maybe if more Republican legislatures thought and acted like you, Sen. Horn. , Governor Whitmer might be more able and apt to work with them instead of getting the bombastic drivel we get from Shirkey and Chatfield.

Enough boy men
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 5:58pm

To be fair, Chatfield is a little young still, Shirkey, no excuse, petulant and immature for his age. He holds grudges and always acts like it's his way or the highway. The governor gave them auto insurance reform and they gave her nothing for roads.

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 4:57pm

Ken Horn you are hiding a lie in this story. The republicans in Lansing have not listened to the voters of Michigan. How many times have we voted in favor of a referendum and you the republican legislature worked to negate that referendum? You the republican legislature attempted to weaken the office of the governor once you saw that a democrat had won. You are still trying to weaken her powers as governor because YOU refuse to work with her. You failed on road funding and now you fail during this crises.

Jake K.
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 9:36am

Keith...the behavior you're seeing from the Republicans is no different than that which the Democrats exhibit during Republican administrations. You sound like you might be your best example. Do you vote for a person or a party? Will you support the "good" an administration is achieving or only criticize the "bad?" Can you look past the person and accept improvements being accomplished? Party politics are destroying the country and our state. Politicians promote only their agenda and fight against anything presented by their opposition. There is no such thing as bipartisan anymore. As long as it continues, the "theirs and ours" tenor will continue to dominate behavior and separate us even further.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 5:15pm

Jake....So when was the last time that happened, a Democrat legislature with a Republican governor? Just curious since you seem to have the state's history on the tip of your tongue. I have seen exactly ZERO "accomplishments" of merit by the republicans in a very very long time. With the republican history of trying to eliminate the African American vote, eliminate the right of women to choose, eliminate the ability of the voting public to overrule them, poisoning Flint, ignoring the disaster that is Line 5, and their membership in ALEC, I could go on and on and ON, but why? There is no reason to ever again vote republican! Especially with your friend in the White House influencing the party. I hope I never see another republican elected in my unbelievably gerrymandered district again. We had a full turnover in spite of your gerrymandering in 2018. I hope we keep up the excellent work until we all turn over the complete lack-of-Michigan-values legislature we now have!

Civil majority
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:02pm

I completely agree with Keith and I'm an independent. Horn just realizes how bad the optics were across the world. It just made Whitmer look like the only adult in the state. Little do people outside the state know that she is very popular here.

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 5:04pm

Good editorial, but what's up with the selection of the photo? People wearing Guy Fawkes masks and yellow capes don't worry me. People with rifles in the Senate balcony overlooking the Senate floor would. Drop a couple sandbags in front of them and that's an effective sniper's crowsnest.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:09pm

The photo angle was to show the stupidity in addition to the violence. They didn't even know what the governor meant by wearing masks. They thought it was for Halloween in Spring.

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 8:16pm

Somehow these sanctimonious editorials fail to mention that just a few demonstrators with firearms effectively deter attacks from Antifa.

Compare what is occurring in Michigan today with what happened in Illinois in 2016 and 2017.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:10pm

10x25mm, but Horn is a Republicon.

Reigan Ito
Tue, 05/05/2020 - 5:59pm

Not challenging you, but I couldn't find a instance of armed demonstrators deterring an attack by Antifa. Would you please send a link to something I can read about it? Thank you.

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 10:26am

Antifa. That would stand for anti fascism?

Kevin Grand
Sun, 05/03/2020 - 9:45pm

So, is anyone going to ask why people were locked out of a public gallery, but only the press and members of the Michigan House were allowed in?

These biased articles and pieces all fail to make that simple connection.

That wouldn't be on purpose now...

Latricia Rentsch
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 10:33am

Govenor whitner is doing her job of protecting all michiganders. God bless her for all her hard work in doing so. There is no place for assault weapons in the state capital, regardless of party affiliation . One day a fully loaded AR15 will rain down on all elected officials from the gallery above. And the bullets will not care if you're a Republican or Democrat. This is insane! No democrats have ever threatened any official in any state with assault weapons at their home or state capital. USA USA USA GOD HELP US ALL

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:14pm

Except for that baseball game outside of DC. Yeah, there are lots of crazies. All the more reason why there should be metal detectors in the Capitol, no excuses.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:11pm

No. You're the only one who wants to change the subject, but nice try

A. Bellows
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:42am

It's likely the gun-toting screamers were antifa fascist plants.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:15pm

Gaslight much?

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:38pm

Bellows, you just can handle Repugnants cannibalizing their own.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 8:56am

The governor needs to cut off their welfare!!!!

Carl M
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 9:09am

Good editorial
Absolutely true - the voices of many were overshadowed by the few (media focused) that choose extreme methods to show their displeasure with the Governor's unfair restrictions.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 11:07am

Please don't blame the media for photographing the terrorist actions exhibited by these "protestors." Every poll in the country says the major of people favor social distancing and, as you call it, "unfair restrictions." People who think the measures taken by the governor are unfair, please stop giving this lip service and actually walk the walk. Please volunteer at a hospital, nursing home, prison, meat-packing plant, or other hot spot w/out PPE and see what happens. In reality, the virus does not care if you are a Democrat or Republican, if you are pro or anti-gun. It is a virus, not a political party and it kills equally.

The Crimson Pirate
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 9:14am

"Don’t ever threaten me, ‘cause that’s when the ‘ol bar bouncer comes out in me."

This is why these people are so angry. They have been threatened and this is the bar bouncer coming out in them.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:17pm

Do as I say, not as I do? I agree with you.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 9:45am

This was not a peaceful protest, nor was it designed to be. It was designed to intimidate and it did. It was terrorism, as defined by the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."

While I appreciate Mr. Horn's background, " I’m not afraid of guns and open-carry, I grew up with guns in the house and on the farm, " please understand that many, many people in this state - and in other states - did not grow up with guns. So, yes, seeing an armed terrorist mob in the capital was extremely intimidating. In addition to guns, the swastikas, the confederate flags and the threats on the life of the governor were beyond the pale. " How can ANYONE call this a "peaceful protest?"

I am heartened by this editorial but have a question. Where are the rest of the Republicans in their condemnation of these terrorist actions, especially the leaders of the Senate and the House? Per Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” Silence = support.

A bad look
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:24pm

Not just the guns, the whole ragtag "militia" dressed and armed for WAR, AK47s screaming looking like they want nothing more than to kill someone. It really doesn't matter if they did or didn't. When we see our respected veterans and soldiers armed in a memorial day parade or honoring a vet with a military salute at a funeral, they don't look like crazy SOBs. They look dignified. The protesters in Lansing looked like crazy SOBs or as Shirkey said, "jackasses".

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 10:28am

I grew up with long guns, too. But not weapons, slightly modified, from the battlefield. Not with weapons commonly used to do mass killing of other human beings. Don't hide behind long guns. There are long guns, and long guns, some of which should be illegal. It took only one massacre in Canada for the Federal Government to say enough.

Jesus help us
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:27pm

Here they shoot children in elementary schools and their fellow rednecks in Las Vegas. Pro Life? Christian?

Mark W.
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 10:37am

I don't know who they really were but I know they were acting within the law or certainly the Police would have intervened. Most of the issues we have with each other revolve around those who want to keep their rights and those who want to limit them. Obviously many commenters are among the later. NOW. Once your rights vanish you'll be doing just exactly what you are told. Even if you are told to carry shoot and kill.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:29pm

We the People make the laws and Mr Horn, like most of us, don't like the behavior. So laws can be changed. No Constitutional laws are absolute.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 10:39am

Funny how Antifa protesters are “heard” and sympathized with as they actually assault people and destroy property. Now you claim a few guys with guns who did absolutely nothing wrong or illegal can’t get their message through? Politicians are losing touch and they had better realize that there is more than progressive left wingers out there.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:32pm

How do you know they didn't enter the Capitol building just to case the place for another visit when they will attack? We need metal detectors at the Capitol now. The crazies talk about protesting every week until they get their mob rule.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 10:43am

“Don’t ever threaten me, ‘cause that’s when the ‘ol bar bouncer comes out in me.“

Well, Senator, it goes both ways. We have a governor who is acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner and a legislature that seems unable or unwilling the check her. People are fed up with being pushed around by politicians who think they are some sort of upper class royalty instead of elected representatives whose power is limited by the US and Michigan Constitutions. Many, many people feel threatened by the lack of a fair political process right now and because they feel threatened, “the ol bar bouncer” is coming out in them.

“If you want me to help you or follow your lead. .. inspire me!” Words to live by...why don’t the Governor and you do it?

Michigan Majority
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:37pm

Whitmer is acting reasonably, given the circumstances. We are under a National Emergency, declared by our "wartime" president. You seem to not know what representative democracy means. You don't get to just show up and terrorize the elected officials to do what you want.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 7:29pm

Whitmer is acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner. A governor who rules by executive fiat and decree sure as heck doesn't embody the principles of "representative democracy". In any event, we live in a Constitutional Republic and not a representative "Democracy" for the express reason that our elected representatives' powers are limited and the mob majority doesn't get to decide what rights the rest of us exercise. Sorry, but there's no COVID-19 exception in the Bill of Rights, no matter how much you wish it were so.

"You don't get to just show up and terrorize the elected officials to do what you want." Neither do elected politicians get to use brute police force powers to terrorize their citizens into compliance with their asinine, ineffective dictates.

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 7:10am

I agree she has acted reasonably, if far from perfectly. The state constitution gives her the power to act quickly in emergencies... that is what she needed to do and that is what she did. Now was everything thought out 100% perfectly? No, so maybe some protesting is justified. Probably protesting by email would have sufficed.

I'm a serious devotee of the 2nd Amendment. I own several of those scary AR-15 rifles, and plenty of other firearms of just about every type. But I can see clearly that when we have people armed with AR-15's or similar, standing on the capitol steps, in the middle of the biggest national emergency since WW2, and they DON'T get arrested for it, we are hardly in the dark depths of tyranny here. These protests are nothing more than political rallies for Donald Trump. While I'm proud that these people CAN stand on the capitol steps with their rifles, I'm ashamed that they DO. It is totally uncalled for, and it undermines the very right they exercise. The reality is, Trump is everything conservatives should not be; he has destroyed the Republican Party and what was left of civility in America. Far too many of us are falling for his con job, and that is deeply saddening.

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 4:04pm

"I agree she has acted reasonably..." Puh leez! I can't buy garden seeds and I can fish from my canoe but not from my little outdoor motorboat?

"The state constitution gives her the power to act quickly in emergencies..". The Legislature declined to renew the governor's emergency powers. She gave them the middle finger and cited an obscure 1945 statute to justify her continued actions.

"Probably protesting by email would have sufficed." Given the above it's clear emails won't sway Whitmer and her denigrating characterization of anyone daring to protest her policies as racist, Confederate loving white nationalists is as predictable as it is despicable.

"The reality is, Trump is everything conservatives should not be; he has destroyed the Republican Party and what was left of civility in America. Far too many of us are falling for his con job, and that is deeply saddening." The Democrat Party and the Left have little to offer as regards civility. Protesting the arbitrary and capricious actions of a seemingly out of control, authoritarian governor has nothing to do with Trump. Calling the protests "nothing more than political rallies for Donald Trump" is just an attempt to delegitimize the protests and smacks of the same sort of dismissive marginalization that Whitmer engages in.

It has been interesting to observe how much of their personal autonomy fearful people are willing to hand over to politicians and bureaucrats; it seems one has only to shout "Science" and "Data" in order to suspend the Bill of Rights. When a governor and other politicians forget that they only govern with the consent of the governed, when they impose capricious, arbitrary, and seemingly politically driven regulations on people that result in lost jobs, lost income, and loss of personal freedom; when large numbers of people feel like their representatives don't listen and respond to their concerns and act like some sort of dictatorial ruling class; then, don't be surprised when frustrated citizens stand on the steps of the Statehouse with guns. It shouldn't come to that and if Whitmer were less pig headed, it wouldn't.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 11:44am

I grew up with guns also and I've a genuine respect for how deadly they are and how easy it is to make a mistake when handling a gun.

Everyone should fear everyone who carries a gun, especially individuals who are not law enforcement.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:42pm

EB, more so when the gun-toters are part of an angry mob.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 11:46am

I disagree.

The message is not getting through at all. When the african americans protested for their rights, they didn't get anywhere until the started making people uncomfortable.

If guns make them uncomfortable, then we need to start protesting with them.

Mary Larkin
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:43pm

If you're such a tough guy, why don't you use your real name.

Sally H.
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 8:26pm

Kyle, that idea about African Americans making progress in getting their civil rights was popular for awhile but it doesn't hold up in historical research. As you can tell by the wide-spread admiration of Dr. M.L King, it was the peaceful side of the protests that won the hearts of many, and therefore the action to make changes. The violence made a big splash in the news because violence always does, but most white people who had no interaction with blacks became suspicious and wary of the civil rights movement when they heard of and saw television reports of the violence. Non-violent protests have an historical record of having more success, making more lasting changes, and with far fewer deaths than violent protests.

The few people I meet now, comment one of two ways about the demonstrations. Those who support the restrictions tell me about the threatening show of guns (I don't bother with TV) and peaceful protesters and merge them together, saying something like "Are they just selfish; don't they care about others?". Those who disagree with the restrictions brush off the supporters of violence in the demonstration, saying that they don't represent the "real demonstrators". So what happens is the violence doesn't decrease the number of people who agree with the demonstrators but it prevents them from getting any listeners, and converts to the cause. Which is probably Sen. Horn's main point. I wish he had not taken the opportunity to make a political dig against the governor though. Bad-mouthing your political opponent, especially with half-or un-truths influences me to pay less attention to what this senator says.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 12:39pm

Some career politicians who have never worked a real job in their lives were frightened that free citizens with guns were unhappy with their job performance and the politicians attempts to seize more power for themselves?
Since this history lesson eluded you in school, let me refresh your memory: if politicians are afraid that they might be shot by the citizens in response to their unconstitutional actions, it means the Second Amendment is working exactly as intended.

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:45pm

Let's boycott Frankenmuth!

Eric Harger
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 2:08pm

What message? That amongst the millions of Michiganders there are a handful of morons? These idiots represent no one but their own warped selves and there little costumes of guns, nooses and swastikas show them for what they really are. Dumb*ss lowlifes who respond to their little racist fuhrer, Trumpkin.

Thank God
Mon, 05/04/2020 - 6:48pm

So true, but to underscore your point even more. News reports said there were a lot of vehicles with out-of-state license plates. So many of the few protesters weren't even Michiganders!

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 3:51pm

Cannot believe that Michigan allows citizens to walk around carrying guns, especially assault rifles! Photos from Lansing are circulating around the world. Those of us who are sane and smart are mortified to see thousands of violent bigots standing in the Capital Bldg. with weapons, waving Nazi flags, screaming at law enforcement,.. Disgraceful and scary! If those folks had brown or black skin they would all be in jail now. People around the world see those photos on their news and are now afraid to travel to the US because they think all Americans are like those unstable lunatics. We just crossed Michigan off as a future destination state for our family vacations from Florida. We will never spend money in a state where people are in public carrying firearms! No justification at all for that!

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 12:12pm

The only protests the media ever supports, are the fake Democrat party organized protests. Everything else gets the same treatment.