Special Committee Formed To Study Potential Gun Ban At Michigan Capitol

WWJ News
May 11, 2020 - 1:58 pm

    (WWJ) A decision on whether guns should be allowed in Michigan's Capitol building in Lansing has been put off for now. 

    The Michigan State Capitol Commission voted Monday afternoon to set up a committee to study the issue.  The decision was made despite an opinion from Attorney General Dana Nessel that said the commission has the legal authority to prohibit firearms in the State Capitol, and should do so right away.

    Some state lawmakers asked for the ban after a group of protesters brought long guns into the building last month. ​

    It's unclear when the issue will be considered again.  

    Prior to Monday's vote, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, sent a letter advising the Commission not to make any hasty decisions, instead asking members to commit to meeting with legislative leaders, Senate and House sergeants, and Michigan State Police to discuss the best policy going forward.

    "The choice to allow or disallow the open carry of firearms brings with it the need for a thorough review of how the policy will be implemented and communicated to the public," Shirkey said in the letter.  "Our citizens have an expectation to freely demonstrate and redress their government at their state Capitol Building. Likewise, legislators, staff, and visitors have an expectation of personal safety and security while on the premises. A simple vote of the Commission will not be an adequate solution to this problem. We must work together to evaluate our options and develop a thoughtful policy for our workplace and our citizens." Read the full letter

    On the other side of the aisle, House Democratic Leader Christine Greig responded with disappointment to Monday's developments. 

    “I am appalled at the Capitol Commission’s decision to shirk their responsibility to make a decision regarding the safety of legislators, staff and members of the public on Capitol grounds. According to Attorney General Dana Nessel and backed up by a previous determination by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, there is no doubt whatsoever regarding the Commissions legal authority to decide on this matter," Greig said, in a statement. 

    “It is clear that partisan politics are at play again in this matter. The conduct of today’s meeting and the Commission’s action both smacks of partisanship and shows a stunning disregard for public safety that places legislators, staff and the public at great risk," Greig added. "The Michigan State Capitol Commission must not delay a decision to prohibit firearms within the Capitol to appease Republican leadership. With very real threats of the continued presence of assault style weapons at future meetings of the legislature, and numerous and many specific threats of violence against legislators and statewide officials, this matter is not resolved. We must ensure the safety and security of everyone who enters our State Capitol.”

    The Commission, which manages the Capitol grounds and building, is made up of the Secretary of the Senate, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, two individuals jointly appointed by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House, and two individuals appointed by the governor.

    Nessel told WWJ Newsradio 950 last week she believes an immediate ban is needed, and it would be dangerous to put off taking action on the issue. 

    "This situation is a ticking time bomb," said Nessel, pointing to last week's armed protest in an interview with WWJ's Jon Hewett.

    "And if the Capital Commission or the Legislature fails to act, it's not really a matter of it there will be a serious incident, it's when. And when that incident does occur, the Capitol Commission will have blood on their hands."

    The debate comes a couple of weeks after photos of armed protesters at the Capitol went viral on social media, and made the news nationwide. 

    Sens. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) April 30  tweeted a photo after demonstrators carrying long guns entered the Senate public gallery, shouting at lawmakers on the chamber floor."Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us. Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them," Polehanki wrote. 

    The protesters were unhappy with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home and other executive orders concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, and were urging legislators to vote against an extension of the state of emergency.