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Gun ban unlikely at Michigan Capitol, despite plot to storm it, take hostages

Jan. 11, 2021: Michigan bans open guns at Capitol, nearly a year after armed protest
Oct. 16 update: Jocelyn Benson bans open carry of guns at Michigan polls on Election Day
Updates: Plot to kidnap Whitmer | Who's charged, what's next?

LANSING — Regulators are unlikely to ban guns at the Michigan Capitol, despite FBI charges against six men accused of plotting to storm the building with weapons and kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Security is lax at the Michigan Capitol, which lacks metal detectors or bag checks as are required at many other state buildings. On a typical day, one or two Capitol police officers are the primary security.

For months, a bipartisan group that oversees the Capitol has debated whether it can ban guns. No is still likely the answer, despite renewed calls to do so following the charges alleging six militia members tried to rally at least 200 men to overthrow the state government. 

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Legal opinions have cleared the six-member Capitol Commission to follow the lead of most states and ban guns, but the group’s vice chair, John Truscott, said the decision is best left to the state Legislature.

“I look at it, personally, putting myself in the shoes of state police. You have an unelected, unaccountable body and people want us to tell law enforcement the rules and the laws that they have to enforce,” said Truscott, a longtime Republican consultant, told Bridge Michigan on Thursday.

The group has debated a ban since an April 30 protest spilled into the Capitol, bringing militia members and other armed activists into a balcony overlooking the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told reporters Thursday afternoon that he's "having further conversations" with commissioners about a potential gun ban, but indicated he doesn't think increased security measures could adequately protect against the kind of threat the FBI is alleging.

“There is no way in a country like ours that we can legislate and get rid of all risk. If we did that it would not be a country that any of us would like, nor would we recognize,” he said.

Federal documents filed Thursday accuse three of the alleged plotters of meeting with militia members at an "American Patriot” rally at the Capitol on June 18.

Days before, they had talked about storming the Capitol, taking Whitmer and other hostages and trying her for treason, prosecutors allege. Eventually, the group opted for a lower profile as their plot continued, attorneys claim.

"When the time comes there will be no need to try and strike fear through presence,” one of the accused plotters, Brian Caserta, allegedly said. “That fear will be manifested through bullets."

On Thursday, hours after the charges were announced, Republican public relations consultant John Sellek wrote on Twitter that the “Capitol Commission must stop delaying and take action now."

Others noted that no changes have been implemented since many legislators expressed fears for their safety after the armed protest last spring.

Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, said “I was sick to my stomach” when she heard about the plot. 

Banning guns in the Capitol “should have been done a long time ago … it’s a place where political tensions are high and it’s divisive. I said in a floor speech back in May that it takes one person. And this was a group of six.”

McMorrow was on the Senate floor when protesters with guns stood in a gallery overlooking lawmakers. “We’re supposed to stand there and say that it doesn’t intimidate us. But there’s no way that you can stand on the floor below a gallery of men dressed in full tactical gear with rifles and not feel intimidated.”

“Those of us who raised concerns were told that we were overreacting and that we should respect their right to carry firearms into the Capitol,” state Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, wrote on Twitter.

“Today, we learned some of them had plans to come back, to ‘storm the Capitol,’ to take hostages, and to kidnap Governor Whitmer. To say this is frightening, is a significant understatement.” 

State Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden, D-Southfield, wrote on Twitter “when I expressed how terrified I was to be at work while armed militia stormed the Michigan Capitol (with nooses, confederate flags, and swastikas)...I was told I was overreacting....” 

The Capitol Commission was set to meet next week, but the meeting was canceled. The next meeting will likely be in mid-November, Truscott said. 

Bridge reporter Jonathan Oosting contributed to this report.

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