After armed protestors poured into the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan last week, several lawmakers responded by saying they wanted to see guns banned from the capitol complex. Now the state’s Attorney General has weighed in, telling lawmakers that the state’s Capitol Commission has the authority to enact a ban, without the need for the Legislature to approve any changes.
[Attorney General Dana] Nessel’s letter comes as Democratic lawmakers are questioning the policy of allowing firearms in government buildings after they felt intimidated by armed protesters April 30 at the Capitol. Another protest is scheduled to take place May next Thursday at the Capitol.
Michigan is one of about a dozen states that allowed the public to generally carry firearms, either concealed or openly, inside capitol buildings, according to a 2013 report from the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS News).
But Nessel said the mixture of loaded firearms, body armor and controversial debate is an “absurdly dangerous combination that would cause the heart of any security expert to skip a beat.”
After a review of the commission’s legal authority, Nessel concluded the commission could ban firearms to “ensure the safety of the visiting public” as well as lawmakers.
“…the commission is not constrained from enacting procedures limiting firearms at facilities under its control,” wrote the attorney general, who is a Democrat. “This is especially true where those procedures fulfill its mandate to ‘operate and manage the Michigan state capitol historic site’ in a fashion that ensures the safety of those civil servants who access the Capitol.”
If Nessel truly believes that loaded firearms and controversial debate are a dangerous combination, then presumably she’d extend her belief that guns can be banned from the state capitol to include a ban on guns in the public square. Or maybe she’d rather legislators pass a law banning political speech while carrying a firearm.
Regardless of the AG’s opinion, the vice chairmain of the capitol commission says other attorneys have told them that the Legislature would have to change the firearms policy through a bill.
But the Capitol Commission has received informal legal advice from other lawyers who found the panel can’t change the policy without legislative action, said Truscott, a commission member and former spokesman for Republican former Gov. John Engler.
“Right now, it’s just an informal letter, the way we view it,” Truscott said about Nessel’s letter. “We do have information to the contrary as well.”
Michigan’s policy dates back to the 1930s, Truscott has said.
Democrats and some Republicans have called for changes to the policy after last week’s protests, including State Rep. Sarah Anthony, who earlier this week was escorted to the capitol building by several armed citizens after she talked about feeling unsafe during the re-open protests.
“Prohibiting firearms within the Michigan State Capitol does not infringe on the constitutional right to bear arms,” said Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing. “We must safeguard Michiganders’ constitutionally protected rights to speak, assemble and petition the government and protect legislators, staff and the general public from armed intimidation.”
Anthony told reporters earlier this week that she didn’t request the armed escort, but wouldn’t turn it down either.
I’ve said before that I don’t believe the intent of the armed protestors was intimidation, but I’m also not exactly clear why the open carry of long guns was so widespread during a protest meant to persuade lawmakers and the governor to begin to re-open the state’s businesses and relax some of the social distancing measures put in place by Gov. Whitmer. I may not think the intent was to intimidate lawmakers, but I’m willing to admit I could also be wrong.
I also still believe that banning firearms from the capitol would be the wrong step to take, and an escalation on the part of government officials at a time when de-escalating tensions and open communications are what’s really needed. If the People felt like they were being listened to, they might not feel the need to shout as loud.