Benson defends Michigan ban on guns at polls, says state police will enforce

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says she has the right to ban the open display of firearms near polling places and Michigan’s top law enforcement official, Attorney General Dana Nessel, helped craft the policy. (Bridge file art)

Update: Judge: Michigan can’t ban open carry guns on Election Day

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson insisted Tuesday that she has the authority to ban the open carry of guns at polling places, amid increased reluctance from some law enforcement groups about enforcing the new policy. 

Last week, Benson issued guidance that bars openly carried firearms within 100 feet of polling places on Election Day. Those with a concealed carry license can carry guns, except in buildings that already ban concealed carry, such as schools or churches. 

State Republicans and some law enforcement groups have questioned whether Benson has the power to issue such a directive, and some sheriffs have said they won’t enforce it.

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A lawsuit challenging the edict could come as soon as Wednesday, said Steve Dulan, an attorney with the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, which includes groups such as Michigan Open Carry.

Benson said Tuesday that she’s confident her ban would hold up in court. Her legal authority comes from state laws against voter intimidation as well as state and U.S. constitutional protections of the right to vote, she said, and the rule was crafted with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a fellow Democrat. 

“The open carry of firearms can create a threatening environment through both visual and other ways,” Benson told reporters, adding the laws give her the right “to ensure that we are protecting every vote and issuing directives to ensure every voter knows that they will be safe and secure when they vote in person.”

She said the ban doesn’t infringe on the Second Amendment because “those with a license to carry a concealed weapon will continue to be able to do so in places where that’s allowed. 

“This is not a ban on firearms, this is an effort to protect our voters from intimidation, threats and harassment on Election Day itself,” Benson said.

Asked why she felt the ban was necessary, she said it was important that local election officials and law enforcement had clarity on the rules in case of potential voter intimidation, and that voters felt safe and confident voting in-person.

“This issue was beginning to dominate conversations with voters,” she said, especially following recent federal charges of 14 men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ahead of the election. 

Voting rights advocacy groups have also raised concerns after President Donald Trump called upon supporters to show up as poll watchers on Election Day.

Some have raised concerns that Benson’s guidance may actually spur gun rights advocates to show up to the polls who otherwise would have stayed home.

Michigan Sheriffs Association executive director Matt Saxton called the order “a solution in search of a problem” and Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck said the “legally ambiguous guidance … could incite others to challenge it on Election Day.”

If local law enforcement doesn’t enforce the rule, the Michigan State Police will, Benson said. 

Over the weekend, Nessel told Showtime’s “The Circus” that the state police would patrol polling locations where they believe sheriffs won’t enforce voter intimidation laws to ensure compliance.  

The controversy arises just two weeks ahead of the November presidential election, when a record-breaking number of voters are expected to cast ballots. 

To date, more than 3 million Michiganders have requested absentee ballots, more than a third of the state’s 7.7 million registered voters. Already, more than 1.5 absentee ballots have been returned.

Nearly 4.8 million people voted total in the 2016 presidential election, Benson said. She expects two-thirds of Michigan voters will vote absentee.

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Grow up
Tue, 10/20/2020 - 3:27pm

Guns are like binkies for these sad pathetic people. Do they take them to bed, in the shower? LOL Is it some kind of status symbol because they can't afford a car or a house without wheels because they blew all their money on guns, beer, and cigarettes?

Follow the law
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 7:35am

Guns are legal and open carry is legal in Michigan so this is not a legal order. Some Sheriffs have gone on record saying they will not enforce this - that should tell you that is an order on the fringe.
Lets ban cell phones too. I find them dangerous so they should not be allowed within 100 feet of a polling location.

Wed, 10/21/2020 - 5:34pm

Try carrying a gun into a court room in MI!!!! Them anti-American cops who are supporting trump and his proud boys will arrest you in a second!!!!

Follow this law
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 5:49pm

Lets ban cell phones too. I find them dangerous so they should not be allowed within 100 feet of a polling location.

We get it — voting is exciting, and you want to share that feeling! But if you’re in the wrong state, you can get in serious trouble for taking a photo of your ballot, or any photos in your polling place.



Better check the laws first, before you concern troll around, telling us we are going to ban something........that is already banned.

Hermes breaks it down this way: Suppose you were a nefarious character who wanted to skew the voting process in some way. You could buy votes, but you’d want proof that people actually voted like you told them to. You could mislead people who don’t understand the voting process or don’t speak English well. You could intimidate other voters into voting like you do.

In these cases, photos from inside the voting booth would really help you, the nefarious character, perpetrate election fraud. And so, many states have just banned those photos categorically. In this narrow circumstance, they’ve indicated, there’s something more essential to democracy than free speech.

What party do you think made that argument to make phones illegal in polling places? I can't find the information yet........but I will. Just read the argument. It's ALL about stopping voter fraud. Who is bigly time into that?

Charlie Day
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 12:55pm

You are calling the men and women who died for your freedom "sad pathetic people"?
My goodness, what an ignorant comment!

Wed, 10/21/2020 - 5:35pm

Did not trump call us veterans and the dead military personal looser??????

Todd Priest
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 12:02pm

I like to keep them handy to protect against people like the party you support that like to murder, burn and loot.

Gary Lea
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 8:59am

A properly-positioned mask is the best protection.

Paul Jordan
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 9:56am

I would say to the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners that carrying firearms at a polling place is not responsible at all. The very act is intended to intimidate. Groups like this are nothing more than front men, facilitators, and apologists for wanabee domestic terrorists. Self-appointed vigilantes have no place in either law enforcement or military activities--in fact, it is illegal.

My buddies and I refought World War II in the basement back in the 50s. Playing soldiers may be normal for little boys, but more than a little strange in supposedly grown men.

Charlie Day
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 11:06pm

I don't carry a gun. But when I see law abiding citizens carrying one, I know that I am safer.
We live in America. No one has any reason to be afraid to vote. If someone prevents you from voting, they will go to prison.
Now, if your feelings(irrational fear of guns) keep you from voting, that is your problem.
Quite frankly, with all of the violence from these antifa/BLM protesters, I would rather have the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners carrying on every single street corner, so that I don't have to think about getting a carry license. We can't afford to pay any more cops, the law enforcement budgets are already large, and at some point we have to accept the fact that WE are responsible for ourselves and also have a duty to protect our fellow citizens if we are capable of doing so. I appreciate every law abiding gun owner who concealed carries for doing that. I know that most of them (if not all of them) will have my back, whether or not we politically disagree (since my political views would certainly offend many conservatives despite my support for gun ownership LOL).

Wed, 10/21/2020 - 10:39am

It is ironic in a sick sort of way that we have conflated our founders’ intentions to establish a democratic society and to constitutionally protect the right of the population to arm themselves as a well organized militia against tyranny with the current insistence by many citizens that they should be able to carry their weapons anywhere anytime even when the purpose is to intimidate others who are attempting to cast their votes which the founders fought to guarantee.

Charlie Day
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 12:55pm

Incorrect. Amazing that this woman does not understand the law. The Sheriff is the highest authority in each county and overrides state police. It blows my mind that she does not know this. How did she get this job?

Wed, 10/21/2020 - 2:13pm

It appears that SoS Benson has claimed the authority to overrule Michigan AG Granholm's Opinion 7101 of February 2002 and subsequent case law on MCL 750-234e, regarding "brandishing". She is redefining mere possession of an exposed firearm as "brandishing", so the police can lodge some kind of charges. It won't work. Brandishing also requires the carrier menace or threaten someone with the firearm. Mere exposed possession does not create "brandishing".

You have to wonder how much Michigan taxpayers will have to shell out in lawsuit settlements unless someone helps her off the ledge.

Todd Priest
Thu, 10/22/2020 - 12:01pm

Voter intimidation is such a farce. Why do democrats make up issues? Don't they have enough on their plates??

Thu, 10/22/2020 - 12:03pm

This is not a law. I'll not be leaving my firearm home.

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 9:23am

Really! you need your gun to go and vote that's why responsible gun owners vote absentee, by parading around with weapons is only fanning the flames of hatred and division.

Sat, 10/24/2020 - 7:59am

I am still waiting for one good reaso other than I can to have weapons at the polling stations and at the capital.