Gun ban at Michigan Capitol unlikely, despite urging from Dana Nessel

Allowing protesters clad to carry loaded rifles in the Capitol during controversial legislative debates is “an absurdly dangerous situation that would cause the heart of any security expert to skip a beat,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said Friday.  (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

LANSING — Scenes of armed demonstrators towering over lawmakers during a protest at the Michigan Capitol two weeks ago have prompted calls to ban firearms inside the historic building and thrust a little-known commission into the middle of the debate. 

But Michigan Capitol Commission members, a majority of whom serve at the pleasure of leadership in the Republican-led Legislature, do not think they have legal authority to regulate firearms despite Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel’s assertion they do. 

A 2013 state law gives the unpaid, six-member commission the power to “operate and manage” the public building in Lansing. The statute does not detail that power, however, and leaves some decisions — including allocation of space within the Capitol — up to the Legislature. 

With commissioners set to meet Monday to discuss the potential for new firearm regulations, Nessel weighed in Friday, telling them she believes they have the power to ban guns at the building and will defend them in court if they choose to do so and are sued. 

Allowing protesters clad in body armor to carry loaded rifles in the Capitol, including balconies that overlook the House and Senate, during controversial legislative debates is “an absurdly dangerous situation that would cause the heart of any security expert to skip a beat,” Nessel wrote in a letter to Capitol Commission Chairman Gary Randall. 

But commission member John Truscott said the panel’s power is “really limited” and it would be up to lawmakers to pass a ban.

“We maintain the Capitol. We hire the guy who runs the Capitol,” said Truscott, a Republican who served as press secretary to former Gov. John Engler. 

“It’s very, very simple things like that. There is nowhere in (the law) where it says we're responsible for the safety of the occupants of the building.”

The debate follows an April 30 protest in Lansing, where a small group of armed demonstrators carried weapons inside the Capitol as lawmakers debated whether to extend Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency authority amid the coronavirus pandemic.  Earlier, during an outdoor rally against Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, organizers had described some of the armed men as militia members, a civilian military force acting as their “security detail.”

While lawmakers sat on the Senate floor, men with rifles stood in the gallery above them “yelling at us,” Sen. Dayne Polehanki, D-Livonia, said at the time. Sen. Sylvia Sanatana, D-Detroit, wore a bulletproof vest on the floor later in the day as a form of personal protection. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said many protested safely but condemned those who used “intimidation and the threat of physical harm to stir up fear and feed rancor.”

Michigan law generally prohibits local governments from adopting firearm regulations that are more stringent than state law, which does not prohibit guns in the Capitol.  But the commision is not a local unit of government, Nessel told members in her letter. 

In her letter, she argued the commission can adopt rules to protect Capitol employees and citizens who visit the building, just as Michigan Supreme Court has barred firearms in state courts for years and school districts have authorized to enact their own gun policies under a 2018 state Supreme Court ruling.

“The Capitol is a place for free expression of thought and debate,” Nessel said in a statement. “But the freedom of civil discourse does not imply the right to threaten others with harm or violence. In our current environment and as the chief law enforcement officer in this state, I am gravely concerned for the safety of both our legislative members and the public at large.” 

Prior to Nessel’s letter, the Michigan Capitol Commission had hired an outside attorney, Amy Shaw, to consider its ability to regulate firearms, Truscott said. Commission members are still awaiting the written analysis, but she has indicated to them that the “commission doesn’t have the authority [to ban guns.] The authority rests with the Legislature.”

The commission effectively works for the Legislature. Two of its members, House Clerk Randall and Secretary of the Senate Margaret O’Brien, work for legislative leaders. Both are former Republican lawmakers, and they in turn appoint two other members to the commission. The final two appointees are decided by the governor. 

Truscott said he too is concerned by armed protesters who appeared at the Capitol during two large protests in recent weeks.

“As a Second Amendment advocate myself, there is absolutely no reason to bring a loaded rifle into the building,” he said. 

Absent action by the commission, gun policy is not expected to change at the Michigan Capitol, where both openly carried firearms and concealed pistols have long been allowed for both lawmakers and the general public. 

Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, have each spoken at large Second Amendment rallies outside the Michigan Capitol, including an annual event where open carry advocates routinely bring their weapons into the building without incident. 

“This is the people’s house, and the people’s capitol, and they have constitutional rights,” Chatfield said last week on a MIRS News podcast

“You have to be very careful before you say you can exercise one constitutional right by coming in and protesting, but you can’t exercise another. And so I support people having the ability to exercise their constitutional rights in a responsible way, and I’m certainly not going to say anything different than that.”

However, Chatfield supports a separate rule that prohibits signs in the Michigan Capitol, which he said is “appropriate and should stay in place.” 

That long-standing regulation, which has prompted criticism from First Amendment advocates, is ostensibly designed to protect the building from inadvertent damage by signs mounted on sticks, which has happened before.

Michigan is among a minority of states without any regulations on firearms in the Capitol building. Temporary rules have been enacted in rare instances, however. In 1999, for instance, House Republican leadership installed a metal detector outside the gallery amid protests over Engler’s plan to take over struggling public schools in Detroit. 

Democratic lawmakers have proposed restrictions in recent years but have not gotten any legislation through a Legislature fully controlled by Republicans since 2010.

Guns are restricted in other government offices and federal buildings so should also be prohibited in the Capitol, Democratic Sens. Polehanki, Santana, Erika Geiss of Taylor and Marshall Bullock of Detroit said Friday in a joint statement calling on Capitol commissioners to “do the right thing” and enact regulations. 

“The recent intimidation tactics used by protesters have been deeply disturbing, with their actions simply having gone too far,” the lawmakers said. “While we believe in and support Second Amendment rights, we also need to ensure the safety of those working in, and visiting, our Capitol Building.”

Michigan Open Carry Inc., a group that promotes open carry rights, is urging lawmakers to oppose any attempt to limit guns in the Capitol, citing what it called a “spotless safety record of people with firearms” at the building. 

Nessel’s letter does not carry the weight of a formal legal opinion, said Tom Lambert, president of the open carry group. 

“To me, it was something she cobbled together to try to make an argument that fit the answer she wanted,” he told Bridge. “She’s always been anti-gun. We knew that was running and we’ve known that since she got into office. That’s pretty darn clear.”

Lambert, who said he hopes to speak at the Capitol Commission meeting on Monday, does not believe members have the authority to limit guns inside the building.

Nessel’s reading would give commissioners “a heck of a lot of power to do a lot of things that I don’t think the legislature would have ever dreamed of giving them” beyond just regulating guns, he argued. “Where does it stop?”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

LMAO
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:29pm

It's okay, it scared the hell out of shirkey and chatfield. Makes them look bad too. Can't wait until we vote without gerrymandering.

Don't believe so
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:32pm

Are firearms and assault weapons allowed in the Michigan Supreme Court?

Interesting
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:37pm

Prohibited Premises

Individuals licensed to carry a concealed pistol by Michigan or another state are prohibited from carrying a concealed pistol or a portable device that uses electro-muscular disruption technology on the following premises:

Please refer to MCL 28.425o for the complete statutory text

Schools or school property but may carry while in a vehicle on school property while dropping off or picking up if a parent or legal guardian

Public or private day care center, public or private child caring agency, or public or private child placing agency.

Sports arena or stadium

A tavern where the primary source of income is the sale of alcoholic liquor by the glass consumed on the premises

Any property or facility owned or operated by a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other place of worship, unless the presiding official or officials allow concealed weapons

An entertainment facility that the individual knows or should know has a seating capacity of 2,500 or more

A hospital

A dormitory or classroom of a community college, college, or university

“Premises” does not include the parking areas of the places listed above.

A Casino

A pistol is subject to immediate seizure if the CPL holder is carrying a pistol in a prohibited area. The pistol is only subject to seizure if the holder is carrying it concealed, except in casinos. In a casino the pistol is subject to seizure whether carried concealed or exposed. The following penalties may also be imposed:

First offense: State Civil Infraction, $500 fine, CPL permit suspended 6 months
Second offense: 90-day misdemeanor, $1000 fine, CPL permit revoked
Third and subsequent offenses: 4-year felony, $5000 fine, CPL permit revoked

Furthermore, effective March 29, 2001, per Administrative Order 2001-1 of the Michigan Supreme Court:

"Weapons are not permitted in any courtroom, office, or other space used for official court business or by judicial employees unless the chief judge or other person designated by the chief judge has given prior approval consistent with the court's written policy."

Revere
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 12:52am

These are for concealed carry. Open carry is allowed nearly everywhere due to this wonderful thing called the constitution and it's amendments. Obviously, the owners of private property, including businesses, can ask people not to carry there, but in general, the constitution and its amendments are the rule and shall not be infringed upon.

middle of the mit
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 9:32pm

Hey revere!

The main firearms store in my area has a sign printed by the owner that states that you can't bring a loaded weapon into the store. At the end of the proclamation they state " I am sorry we have to spell this out to you"

Why would they do that?

Maybe because people were bringing loaded weapons into the store? And the store is full of combustible materials and people like you don't give a crap?

Anarchy!

Americas renovation!!!

Tell what you believe to the courts!

Dare ya!!

Start your anarchy in the public spaces.

Let us find out how comfortable the PUBLIC IS with open weapons....shall we?

Revere
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 9:50pm

Mit,
You dummy. You completely misunderstood what was right in front of you.
These signs are in place because of the great number of idiots who will bring in a gun to sell or trade, often something they found in a dead relatives house, and after setting it on the counter, usually with the safety off, the clerk finds it to be loaded. HUGE safety concern. That sign is there for liability reasons to keep dummies like you from bringing a loaded gun into the store.
You should also have seen a sign stating that concealed weapons must remain in their holsters AT ALL TIMES while inside the store. I guarantee you many people carry loaded weapons into that store every day, and for similar reasons (safety), they are NOT allowed to remove them from their holster.
You thought you had something here, didn't you! You dummy. Now get back in your commie corner. What the heck were you doing at a gun store anyway? Trolling?

Barry J Hirsh
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 12:34am

Why would they do that?

Liability. If they didn't, their insurance company would cancel their policy.

Revere
Wed, 05/13/2020 - 9:07am

Exactly, Barry! I am not sure what Mit was trying to say. I think he's lost it. Not sure if he ever had it.

LOL
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:39pm

The courts allow lax gun laws, but don't allow you to bring them into courts.

Andrew Bommarito
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 4:49pm

So guns are ok, but sticks are not? Shirkey and the rest of the republicans sure have some strange ideas!

Ron Wellman
Sat, 05/09/2020 - 5:45pm

Guns I believe are banned from schools for the same good reason they should be banned from inside the Michigan State Capital building. Namely that it takes just one mentally disturbed person to take an innocent life. Banning guns from the inside capital building infringes on no one's 2nd Amendment Rights. Tempers flare irrationally and that should never cost anyone their life.

A Conservative ...
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 11:55am

Those who were in the gallery appeared to be responsible gun owners, never drawing down on anyone, while expressing their 1st Amendment right to speak freely.

Those aren’t the people you should be worried about. Besides, are you really that scared of the big bad black boom sticks, or just one who doesn’t understand that Rights are given by our Creator, not to be infringed upon by mere mortal men?

middle of the mit
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 10:08pm

or just one who doesn’t understand that Rights are given by our Creator, not to be infringed upon by mere mortal men?////

That is a substantial statement. Isn't it?

Who does GOD tell us we should submit to? Our worldly leaders? UNLESS THEY ARE LIBERALS? Yeah, I don't think I saw any where in the Bible. If it is in there, I would like you to show me the book and the verse. Can't? NOT surprising.

Does your god tell you to be stupid and not listen to people that know more than you?

My GOD doesn't.

My GOD warns against those who will lead you astray. And throughout the Bible it is the leaders who claimed they had Knowledge above and beyond that of the Bible who were the destruction of their own kind. That is why they met the Prophets in person.

I still want to start my own middle of the mit outfit.

Don't go to a medical professional! They don't know what they are talking about.

Have an injury? Come to me!

I can take care of it all! Need stitches? I can sew! It will be a HOT needle, but it will be sterile! Even if it is heated up with a soldering torch.....and not an autoclave.

WMD
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 12:41pm

I'm pretty sure it was Adams that gave us our rights... not a magic man in the sky.

10x25mm
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 12:12pm

Somehow you missed the subtle difference in average age between schools and State Capital visitors. Most school children are debarred the possession of arms by their age; not so visitors to the capital.

Regardless, in your Brave New World it appears everyone needs narco-hypnosis.

Matt
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 3:51pm

A mentally disturbed person could take someone's life anywhere in many ways. Why is the life of a legislator more important than anyone else's?

Marshall
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 8:31am

I agree the open carry activists can sometimes be an ugly bunch. I think the need manage their optics better. Still, most of the gun banners are just using this incident to advance their long held agenda. Find me a time when any of them took a pro gun position. The fact remains that “gun free zones” don’t protect anyone and just represent wishful thinking. Theatrics aside, at least the rep who brought her own security detail is admitting that being armed for defense can be a good idea.

CPL Holder
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 1:14pm

Marshall, I agree that it only takes a few to make the group look bad, but how do you keep that group from attending and possibly one day not holding it together and shooting someone just for having a different view? A lawmaker in the Capital should not have to bring her own security detail. Might as well say she should carry a gun too and be prepared to shoot back if not killed first. I do believe in open carry and concealed carry, but feel loaded weapons have no place in places with high tensions and emotions. It only takes one shot.

Mike
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 9:21am

When those guys were there with their guns, it was the safest day at the capital.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 9:35am

With all of the guns and protests these people still cannot protect their terribly hurt fee fees. Lol

Anonymous
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 9:38am

The majority in Michigan will never be properly represented until the new district lines are drawn and gerrymandering is a thing of the past. This state is run by a minority of politicols like Truscott who have nothing to offer to the general populace except the idea of guns and Jesus. Truscott should have been run out of the state when his pal Engler left.

Arjay
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 7:19pm

And what is proper representation? 10 democrats, 4 republicans for the federal house, and 75 democrats, 35 republicans in the Michigan house? 8 republicans, 6 democrats in the federal house, and 58 democrats and 52 republicans in the Michigan house? A 50% split of each party? How about 60% independent, and 20% from each party? Just what is proper representation? I’m sure either you or I will not consider whatever plan is drawn up as proper.

Try common sense
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 9:46am

There is no need except intimidation for open carry in the Capital. Signs can be prohibited but not guns? Just how ridiculous is that. Grow a brain. I’m a gun owner and see no need to carry mine to peaceful demonstrations.
How many striking workers could get away with carrying on a picket line without repercussion? Use your heads people.

10x25mm
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 5:16pm

Some of us remember Diablo Valley College professor Eric Clanton, who attacked seven unarmed, Berkley, California pro-Trump protesters on behalf of Antifa in 2017, with a bicycle lock. Clanton eventually skated, despite inflicting serious brain injuries on three of his victims.

All those guns you sanctimoniously decry have ensured a far more civilized political debate in Michigan. Antifa leave their bicycle locks at home.

Anonymous
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 10:14am

People are tired of legislators like Chatfield dictating policy in this state. These guys need to go back to obscurity in Cow Pie, Michigan where they belong.

Lorraine Lucas
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 12:30pm

So signs are to be regulated, and guns are not??? There is something very wrong about this skewed logic. The commission refuses to step up to the plate and make the hard decision and instead passes the buck to the legislature. Our legislators are failing to protect themselves and the public. A three-ring circus has more action. When does this madness end?

Revere
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 8:56pm

Lorraine,
There is no logic in your statement.
Protect the public from what? Life?
Are you aware that in the "public", there are law abiders, and criminals? Are you aware that criminals disobey laws, including laws about where you can and cannot carry a concealed weapon?
Furthermore, are you aware of the nearly 1 billion guns in this country, that will be here for the next 500 years with or without "gun legislation"?
And finally, are you aware that it is now possible to simply 3D print a gun on a 3D printer if you do not have one, and nobody will ever stop this?
Stop wringing your hands in fear and join real life. I will promise you two things: 1) The giving up your fear and living life without it is well worth the risk and 2) Life has a 100% chance of killing you sooner or later - Everyone dies, usually when we least expect it, so get over it, stop being fearful, and be happy.

Tim Joseph
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 6:15pm

Guns are not allowed in Republican state and national conventions, and neither are they in NRA conventions. Of course. Why are we being bullied by these groups?

Revere
Sun, 05/10/2020 - 7:14pm

Dana Nessel: Looks like a stasi pig, thinks like a stasi pig, talks like a stasi pig. Must be a stasi pig!
Recall these stasi pigs! Now!!!!

Take away the G...
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 9:29am

If they are going to ban guns from the Capitol, make sure the Governor's personal ARMED bodyguards don't have their guns when they are with her in the Capitol.

Or are those guns OK?

just a humble poet..
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 10:58am

I believe people fail to note the obvious.. cooler heads truly prevail when you step back from the “emotionally charged” items which are involved with this situation.. Since the Governor gave the quarantine order and has subsequently extended it again.. and again.. most of Michigan has been either working their buttocks off as essential workers or laid off/forced out of work and told to stay cooped up in their house all day.. Now None of us asked for this.. but this is the $hit cards we have been dealt.. Even a casual observer must admit.. some of the rules the Governor has made during this little siesta have been rather arbitrary.. can canoe.. but not motorboat.. can buy seeds.. can’t buy seeds.. can now buy seeds again.. cant get a haircut but buy all the lottery tickets.. alcohol and marijuana you want.. From a lay person’s perspective.. it’s frustrating.. and although I DO believe in the Second Amendment.. I personally wouldn’t carry in the Capitol building.. I ALSO respect the RIGHT of any fellow citizen expressing their legal rights of expression.. I also would advise against changing any more rules just to change rules at this time.. Not because of anything Guns /vs AntiGuns bull$hit but because enough changes are enough.. Give the citizens their rights back.. Give us the science you purport that supports some of your arbitrary rules you’ve been making up on the fly.. and I can just about guarantee.. you will see a lot less people feeling the need to express their legal freedoms in public..

WMD
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 12:35pm

The representatives and senators who disagree with guns in the capital building should sue the leaders for creating a hostile work environment.

CPL Holder
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 12:58pm

"Temporary rules have been enacted in rare instances, however. In 1999, for instance, House Republican leadership installed a metal detector outside the gallery amid protests over Engler’s plan to take over struggling public schools in Detroit."
Okay for Republicans to regulate but not for the Democrats?? Maybe instead of changing the law the Dem's should just do the temporary regulations.... There is absolutely NO need for loaded rifles in a 'peaceful protest' in the Capital where the tension is high and people are screaming threats. None.

Citizen
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 1:25pm

Simple question...why bring a rifle to the Capitol?

Bob Butkiss
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 1:33pm

Quick, the Governor is doing a horrible job and lots of people are losing their jobs and the vulnerable aren't being protected- but look over there! Look, it's a gun! Let's talk about that trivial and useless distraction! Quick, no one look up the skyrocketing number of suicide deaths, because it might be possible somehow for someone to die if hypothetically a gun went off that was brought in the capital!

FEAR! FEAR! Just be afraid already so that you don't pay any attention to the utter failures that are occurring in management of our state!

Scott Hoffman
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 7:57pm

This statement is Wrong! You can not legal Conceal Carry in State of Michigan Buildings!
Any student of a Conceal Carry Class is taught this!
In Michigan it is legal to open carry on State of Michigan property, State and Local, and at Schools and Public Colleges.

"Absent action by the commission, gun policy is not expected to change at the Michigan Capitol, where both openly carried firearms and concealed pistols have long been allowed for both lawmakers and the general public. "

Unless the law has changed, "concealed pistols have long been allowed for both lawmakers and the general public. " NOT FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC!

LAWMAKERS YES, PUBLIC NO!

Revere
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 9:52pm

Scott,

The situation had nothing to do with concealed carry. This was open carry of rifles. Totally legal everywhere. Welcome to America, love it, or leave it!

TJH
Mon, 05/11/2020 - 11:00pm

Signs cannot be displayed in the Capitol, but it is OK to openly carry firearms. Yes, the Constitution gives us many rights, but the framers would cringe to see how we have perverted the intention of many of the articles and amendments. When I saw the videos of the protesters carrying assault style long guns on the lawn and in the Capitol building and the legislative chamber, it did not look like anything that could be called a well regulated militia. It looked more like an angry mob with some members trying to scare or intimidate the men and women who we choose to represent us in the legislature.
I have owned firearms since I was a child. I was taught how to use them safely. Those lessons never included carrying loaded weapons in buildings or in public places where people gather.
We are at a greater risk of losing our Second Ammendment rights due to behavior like we witnessed at the Capitol during the protests than we are from legislation that might sensibly define the limits of those rights. More guns and more permissive interpretation of the Second Ammendment has not made us safer in this country. It has resulted in hundreds of deaths in just the past few years. We are a freedom loving people. When will the freedom of our children to live in a country that doesn't lead the globe in gun related violence and death be something we value more that our big guns?

Barry J Hirsh
Tue, 05/12/2020 - 12:31am

Note:

Ballistic vests will not stop a .233 round (or any rifle round, for that matter). The protesters were carrying ARs, which are .223 Remington caliber.

That said, anyone who actually believes any of them were there to shoot people has issues with paranoia.

Just sayin'.

Revere
Wed, 05/13/2020 - 9:10am

Barry - Check out the standard issue IIIA armor - The new stuff will stop an AR-15 round no problem.
It won't, however, stop your typical deer rifle round nor shotgun slug!
I love it when people get triggered when a civilian carries a neutered AR-15 that looks like a military "assault rifle" but is not.
We carry these rifles to distract the anti-gun nutjobs from the real danger - The deer rifles and shotguns, which can shoot through multiple bodies with a single bullet! We have convinced them that a gun's danger level is based on how it looks. Stupid, emotional people who think with their feelings are easy to deceive.

Lags
Sun, 05/17/2020 - 4:40am

By the looks of the crowd white males and yes I am, there is a small percent probably less than one percent, that have been shot at, no not war time in some other country but here in this country. Scary feeling it is especially when you don't have a weapon to defend yourself, the red and blue puppetiers are playing you for fools making you more dependant on them, instead of standing together is the only way to bring about positive change. There is always a happy medium to be found until we start looking for it the divide becomes further away. Weapon's at any assembly is dangerous all it takes one unbalanced individual then the hurt starts, we've seen it at schools, concert's and so on. My middle of the road on this is weapon's are HOME,FAMILY protection.