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.
A spokeswoman for incoming House Speaker Jason Wentworth said he wants everyone to abide by the rule, even though he doesn’t believe the commission had the right to issue it.
“The speaker is grateful for the work of the Capitol Commission, but it does not have the authority to set policy in the Capitol,” Lynn Afendoulis said in a news release. “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.”
Commission Vice Chair John Truscott said the commission doesn’t write policy but is ready to address general security issues. He said state government will have to fund it.
“We don’t have a budget for security measures, so in reality, the governor and Legislature would have to deal with it,” Truscott said. “We’ve gone as far as we can go with the budget constraints we have.”
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.
The FBI has warned of plans for armed protests at all state capitals and in Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Michigan State Police will increase its visible and unseen presence at the Capitol for the next couple weeks, spokeswoman Shanon Banner said in an email Monday.
The Michigan Democratic Party issued a statement saying that though it applauds the fact the commission has “finally put their authority to use,” it is not enough and that all firearms should be banned inside the Capitol.
Sen. Dayna Polehanki 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.”