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Guns can be banned at Michigan Capitol, says AG Dana Nessel

Members of a militia group watch the protest outside while waiting for the Michigan Senate to vote Thursday, April 30, 2020 at the capitol in Lansing. (Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/TNS)
May 09, 2020

Attorney General Dana Nessel said Friday a ban on guns at the Capitol could be enacted by the Michigan State Capitol Commission, which is slated to discuss firearms next week.

In a letter sent to the Michigan State Capitol Commission, Nessel said the commission would be within its rights to ban guns on the Capitol grounds for the protection of those both inside and outside of the building. She also issued a statement on her decision in a press release issued by her office.

“With exceptions to those tasked with protecting our Capitol, the only way to assure that a violent episode does not occur is to act in concert with the many other state legislatures around the nation that have banned firearms in their capital facilities,” Nessel said.

“The employees at our Capitol and members of the public who visit are entitled to all the same protections as one would have at a courthouse and many other public venues. Public safety demands no less, and a lawmaker’s desire to speak freely without fear of violence requires action be taken.”

The commission is comprised of six members: the Secretary of the Senate, the Clerk of the House, two members appointed by the governor and two members jointly appointed by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. The commission is tasked with managing the Capitol grounds and building, which includes approving what is and isn’t approved on the property.

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A notice on the commission’s website says a meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday, May 11 will take place with the first agenda item being “discussion of firearms in the Capitol and on Capitol Square.”

Because the commission is not a local unit of government, it has the authority to ban weapons at the Capitol, according to Nessel who cited a pair of rulings by the state Supreme Court. Nessel also says the same guidance was provided to House Speaker Lee Chatfield by her predecessor, former Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Attempts by MLive to reach commission chair and House Clerk Gary Randall and vice chair John Truscott were unsuccessful. Earlier this week, Truscott told the Associated Press he believed the decision would be up to the legislature and not the commission.

State Democrats called on the commission to ban guns on the grounds shortly after Nessel’s announcement. House Democrats sent a letter to the commission reasoning that several other states have banned or restricted guns on the grounds of their capitols and that given the current climate, Michigan should do the same.

“Prohibiting firearms within the Michigan State Capitol does not infringe on the constitutional right to bear arms,” said State Rep. and Democratic Caucus Chair Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, in a press release. “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.”

Sens. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia; Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit; Erika Geiss, D-Taylor; and Marshall Bullock, D-Detroit issued a joint statement as well calling for the ban.

“The Capitol is the building of the people, and it should be a place where everyone feels safe and secure, no matter whether they are children coming for an educational opportunity or adults exercising their First Amendment rights. The recent intimidation tactics used by protesters have been deeply disturbing, with their actions simply having gone too far. While we believe in and support Second Amendment rights, we also need to ensure the safety of those working in, and visiting, our Capitol Building,” reads a portion of the statement.

Pressure has been mounting to consider a ban following a protest last week that ended up inside the Capitol while lawmakers were in session. Protesters demanded to be let into the chambers while several of them were armed with guns. The tense encounter ended without any serious problems, but many lawmakers have spoken out since to express their concern over how the protest played out.

Sen. Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, publicly scolded some of the protestors.

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