Connecting state and local government leaders
The decision comes in the wake of the siege of the U.S. Capitol and as statehouses across the country are on heightened alert for security threats.
Openly carrying firearms into the Michigan state Capitol building will be banned, following a unanimous vote on Monday by a commission that oversees operations at the statehouse.
The open carry ban will take effect immediately, but it will not prevent licensed gun owners from carrying concealed weapons inside the building or carrying firearms outdoors on capitol grounds.
Michigan’s State Capitol Commission began examining firearms rules last year after armed protesters, who opposed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency coronavirus orders, filed into the Capitol and tried to force their way into legislative chambers.
The commission’s 6-0 vote marks a reversal from September, when the panel split 3-3 and did not adopt two proposals to curtail the carrying of firearms in the Capitol.
It also comes less than a week after a mob of President Trump’s supporters overran police at the U.S. Capitol in a violent siege to protest his loss of the presidential election. Since then, states have been re-examining and ramping up statehouse security.
Whitmer, a Democrat who was the target of a militia-backed kidnapping plot last year, said the ban was “a good start” and called for further restrictions on the carrying of guns inside the Capitol.
But commissioners said Monday that they believed they only had the ability to implement an open carry ban at this time.
“We have no authority to implement the infrastructure to go beyond that at this point,” said Commissioner William Kandler, ahead of the vote. “We have no budget to do it. We are not experts in security.”
Whitmer said the Capitol Commission’s immediate action on firearms restrictions was needed given the “rapid rise in violent rhetoric and threats to public safety.”
“No lawmaker, reporter, staff member, or anyone who works in the Michigan Capitol should fear for their safety at work,” she said. “On a normal day, hundreds of people walk through the Capitol, including groups of fourth graders, teachers, and parents on school field trips to learn about state government. That’s why we must take action to ban all weapons at the Capitol to keep Michiganders safe.”
Not all lawmakers embraced the open carry ban.
Incoming House Speaker Jason Wentworth, a Republican, argued that the commission did not have the authority to set the firearms policy. He urged individuals to respect the ban and to follow the rules enforced in the Capitol, but said he “will be looking at options” in response to the ban.
Statehouses across the country have been on high alert in the wake of the U.S. Capitol attack, with some temporarily closing their doors as a precautionary measure.
Federal authorities have warned that armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from now through Inauguration Day and that at least one group is planning to “storm” state government buildings.
On Monday, demonstrators gathered outside the state Capitol building in Olympia, Washington, at least some of them carrying firearms and other weapons. The National Guard and state police were providing security at the Capitol campus as the state’s legislative session got underway.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.