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Michigan bans the open carrying of guns inside state Capitol

Armed members of a militia group inside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing last April wait for the state Senate to vote.
(Nicole Hester / MLive.com/Ann Arbor News)

A state panel Monday banned the open carrying of guns in Michigan’s Capitol, a week after an armed mob rioted in the U.S. Capitol and following a plot last year to storm the statehouse.

Moves to ban weapons at the Michigan statehouse have been pushed since April, when protesters opposed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions, some armed with long rifles and other weapons, entered the Capitol demanding to be allowed onto the floor of a legislative chamber closed to the public.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the statehouse, 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 state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican 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 by a mob of President Trump’s supporters erupted at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

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A spokeswoman for incoming GOP House Speaker Jason Wentworth said he wants everyone to abide by the rule, even though he does not 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,” spokeswoman Lynn Afendoulis said in a statement. ”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.”

State Capitols across the country are under heightened security after the siege of the U.S. Capitol last week.

Commission Vice Chair John Truscott said the commission doesn’t write policy but is ready to address general security issues. He said state government would have to fund it.

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“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, a Democrat, had carried guns at anti-lockdown protests at the Capitol last spring. Prosecutors say the accused ringleader of the abduction plot 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 in all state capitals and in Washington in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20. 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.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has signed into law a gun-rights bill eliminating an individual’s duty to retreat before using force.

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The Michigan Democratic Party issued a statement saying that, although it applauded commission members for “finally put[ting] their authority to use,” the open-carry ban did not go far enough and that all firearms should be banned inside the Capitol.

Democratic Sen. Dayna Polehanki introduced legislation last year to ban all firearms from the Capitol, but the measure was shelved. She said Monday before the commission’s vote that an open-carry ban would lead to a false sense of security for those who work at and visit the Capitol.

“Bullets are bullets,” no matter whether a gun is concealed or carried openly, she said.

“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.”


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