After Armed Protests, MI Lawmakers Debate Capitol Gun Ban

Some lawmakers in Michigan, including at least one Republican, say they’re looking into whether they can ban the carrying of firearms inside the capitol building after armed protestors filled the capitol rotunda and visitor’s galleries during a protest against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders last week.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission is exploring whether it has the authority to ban guns inside the Lansing building. At least one gun-owning Republican on the six-member commission said he supports a ban.

“I think its safe to say that everybody is very disturbed, including me, by what we saw last week,” John Truscott, vice chairman of the commission, said on the “Morning Wake-up” radio show on WILS-AM on Tuesday. “We do not like seeing guns brought into the building – loaded guns – and I’m a Second Amendment advocate and a gun owner and I did not like what I saw.”

Truscott said the commission has sought a legal opinion to determine if it has the authority to ban guns inside the building. The commission, which is responsible for managing and maintaining the building and its grounds, meets Monday and will discuss the options, Truscott said.

“We don’t know what the law is going to show us in terms of our ability to stop this or temporarily ban it or whatever,” Truscott said, adding that lawmakers asked the commission to explore its legal authority over guns.

The armed protestors have even alienated some lawmakers who agree with them that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders have gone too far, with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey calling them “a bunch of jackasses” in a post on social media last Friday.

Monday night, Fox New host Sean Hannity chastised the armed protestors in Michigan, warning them that carrying guns in the state capitol during a protest in favor of re-opening the economy wasn’t a smart idea.

I’m the number one supporter in radio and television that I know of — First Amendment and the Second Amendment. Now, no one is a bigger defender of the Second Amendment than yours truly. Everyone has the right to protest, protect themselves, and try to get the country open. This with the militia look here and these long guns, uh, no. Show of force is dangerous. That puts our police at risk. And by the way, your message will never be heard, whoever you people are. No one should be attempting to intimidate officials with a show of force. And God forbid something happens, they’re going to go after all of us law-abiding Second Amendment people.”

Personally, I’ve been neutral on the bearing of arms at protests that are ostensibly about re-opening the economy, but let’s go through Hannity’s objections. As he noted, there was nothing illegal about what the armed protestors in Michigan did, as carrying firearms in the capitol building is currently allowed under Michigan law. Was this a “show of force”, and did it put police at risk? There were no arrests made, and as far as I’m aware there were no threats made to any of the Capitol police officers.

I was a speaker at the Lobby Day rally in Virginia back in January, when tens of thousands of gun owners filled the streets of Richmond in a show of support for our Second Amendment rights and to protest the gun control bills being rammed through the legislature by Democrats. Every gun owner present had been demonized as potentially violent extremists by the press and Democrat politicians in the days before the event, but as it turned out, everybody was respectful of each other and law enforcement. I just simply disagree with Hannity that armed protestors put police at risk.

Clearly, though, the fact that protestors were exercising their Second Amendment rights along with their First Amendment rights allowed the media to largely ignore the supposed purpose of the protest in favor of a narrative of “scary men with scary guns invade the state capitol.” Hannity’s right that the re-open message got lost, and that’s likely the case as long as the exercise of the Second Amendment is front-and-center at a rally or protest about ending the stay-at-home orders.

If you’re organizing a protest, not only do you need to think about what’s legal, you need to think about what’s helpful. Armed gun owners legally carrying at a Second Amendment rally may be helpful in showing the media and non-gun owning members of the public the widespread support for the right to keep and bear arms. Armed gun owners legally carrying at a protest against a governor’s stay-at-home order will likely cause a lot of folks to scratch their head and wonder what the Second Amendment has to do with re-opening retail stores (remember, gun stores remain open in Michigan, and in fact a new gun shop just opened up a couple of weeks ago).

I don’t think it should be a crime to carry a lawfully possessed firearm in a state capitol building, but I’m not sure I understand the point of walking around the hallways with an AR-15 while you’re trying to convince representatives and senators of the need to allow businesses to start serving customers again, or even to revoke some of the sweeping powers claimed by Michigan’s governor. The point of these protests should be to persuade people to the re-open side. Instead, it sounds like even some allies were alienated by what they saw.

I know, I know. They’re all a bunch of RINO squishes anyway, right? Well, no. If nothing else, the Michigan legislature has blocked Gov. Whitmer’s gun control agenda during the past few sessions, and as long as the Republicans remain in control of the state legislature, that’s likely going to be the case. Even if every lawmaker who’s complained about the armed protestors were RINO squishes, the goal of the re-open movement should still be to persuade them. They’re the ones that are currently in office, after all.

One of my favorite quotes about politics comes from economist Milton Friedman, who got to the heart of the goal of political activism in a single sentence, though I’m going to quote a bit more for flavor.

I have often said we shall not correct the state of affairs by electing the right people; we’ve tried that. The right people before they’re elected become the wrong people after they’re elected. The important thing is to make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. If it is not politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either.

The goal of the re-open movement, just the like the goal of the Second Amendment movement, is to get the wrong people to do the right thing. In the case of the re-open movement, it’s convincing lawmakers and governors to relax shutdown orders. In the case of the Second Amendment movement, it’s convincing lawmakers, governors, and the president to take the Constitution seriously and respect our right to keep and bear arms. In order to maximize the chance of success, movements also need to attract more supporters. In order to do that, they have to persuade the undecideds and opponents of the virtue and value of their cause. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t look like the armed protestors in Michigan have succeeded in doing so. In fact, they seem to be losing ground.