Monday’s new open carry ban in the Michigan Capitol landed with a thud among state lawmakers from both parties, albeit for different reasons.
Speaker of the House-elect Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, does not think the Michigan State Capitol Commission has the legal authority to enact the ban it approved with a unanimous vote, though he supports obeying the new rule for now.
Meanwhile, the prevailing sentiment among Democrats is that the ban doesn’t nearly go far enough, and is just one step on a path that should lead to a full firearms ban inside the Capitol building.
Read more: Open carry of firearms banned inside Michigan Capitol
Those extra steps towards a total prohibition on guns inside the Capitol would come with about a $1.5 million price tag, according to police and Capitol Commissioners.
Extra security measures require extra resources
The Capitol Commission stopped short of a full firearms ban since that dollar amount is more than its annual maintenance budget, said Vice-chair John Truscott. The $1.5 million would pay for more metal detectors and other screening equipment, said Lt. Darren Green of the Michigan State Police Capitol post.
“With metal detectors, X-rays, magnetometers and things like that, there’s a pretty substantial cost,” Green said. “The Capitol Commission at this time has said that’s not something they would support right now… because of the financial commitment it would take.”
That means either the Republican-led Legislature pass a new appropriation for security measures, or the state police shift their budget around to accommodate the new rule. If neither comes, security inside the Capitol building isn’t expected to change much, Green said.
The other wrinkle is educating Second Amendment defenders on the new restriction, he said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be necessarily difficult for us (to adjust),” Green said. “A conversation with these people that are coming into the Capitol, explaining to them the new rule…allowing them to ask questions, giving them a lot of verbal direction on what their options are.”
The state police Capitol post follows guidelines set from by Capitol Commission, Green said.
“We’re going to react to whatever decisions they make and act accordingly,” he said.
For specific threats, state police will increase its presence around the Capitol, said MSP spokeswoman Shanon Banner. Extra officers roamed around the Capitol on Monday in case of a protest against the Capitol Commission vote, and more presence is expected after the FBI warned of demonstrations organized by online groups for Jan. 17, three days before President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated.
Read more: Security increased at Michigan Capitol as FBI warns of possible armed protests
This extra presence is expected for the next two weeks, Banner said.
“Today’s increased presence at the Capitol is a response to potential threats against state capitols in the weeks to come,” she said.
Experts, lawmakers divided
An open carry ban may make lawmakers feel further removed from the threat of a shooting, said Matt Saxton of the Michigan Sheriffs Association, but it wouldn’t likely actually stop a potential shooter.
“Until we turn our government buildings into prisons, put fences around them and not allow anybody inside, you’re not going to stop all incidents from happening, whether you ban open carry (or not),” he told MLive. “If someone has malicious intent, and they plan to do it with a firearm, they’re going to bring it where their intent is to cause harm.”
Emma Fridel, a criminology expert and assistant professor at Florida State University, published a study last May finding that more restrictions on concealed carry permits generally means fewer firearm homicides. This correlation, however, doesn’t necessarily apply to mass shootings, she said.
She did say gun restrictions do reduce the possibility that someone enters a stressful situation, such as a tense protest, with a device that can kill someone more easily.
“Hypothetically, if the same people storm a Capitol but none of them have guns, versus the same people storming the Capitol but all of them have guns, which do you think is more likely to result in someone getting shot?” she asked rhetorically. “That is more the issue. More guns means more opportunity for someone to act.”
Democratic lawmakers have discussed a full firearms ban since armed demonstrators protesting the COVID-19 lockdown stormed the Michigan Capitol building in April. Months later, some of those same men were arrested for their involvement in a plot to kidnap Whitmer and spark a “civil war.”
The Commission revisited the open carry question in the wake of last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump. Democrats including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and a number of House representatives said the open carry ban “was not enough.”
“The Capitol Commission’s action to ban open carry guns at the Capitol is a good start, but more action is needed,” Whitmer said in a statement. “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.”
Nessel added that today’s ban “was simply not enough” to protect Capitol staff, representatives and visitors from injury.
“Firearms – whether explicitly visible or concealed by clothing – possess the same capability to inflict injury and harm on others,” she said in a statement. “Only banning them does little to meaningfully improve the safety and security of our Capitol.”
Other Democrats such as Rep. Sarah Anthony of Lansing said the limited ban allows “domestic terrorists” a way to get weapons into the Capitol building.
“The commission’s vote today will continue to allow domestic terrorists access to Michigan’s Capitol,” Anthony said in a statement. “The nation is watching what’s happening in Michigan and wondering why there is complacency to the threat of violence.”
Republican lawmakers were more split on the open carry ban. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, supported the ban, partially pushing the Capitol Commission to make the move.
Wentworth, on the other hand, “will be looking at options for handling” the ban “in the future.”
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