The open carry of firearms inside the Michigan Capitol building is banned effective immediately after a unanimous vote Monday from the state’s Capitol Commission.
The members of appointed state panel voted 6-0 to prohibit open carry inside the building during a short afternoon meeting on Jan. 11. This does not affect open carry on Capitol grounds outside the building.
The vote comes after months of debate, particularly in the wake of armed protesters storming the state Capitol in April and protesters attacking the U.S. Capitol last week.
Commission Chair Gary Randall charged Vice-chair John Truscott and Commissioner Bill Kandler late last year with researching options for the panel to improve security measures around the building. While the Commission doesn’t have the funds to install metal detectors and more at entrances themselves, Kandler said, the open carry ban was something they could do immediately.
“Commissioner Truscott and I spent a lot of time figuring out how security works and how we could implement things, how security works at other buildings such as the Supreme Court,” Kandler said. “After we reviewed all the implementation aspects, we determined the extreme limit of our real authority to actually implement was to implement a ban on open carry. We don’t have the infrastructure to do much else at this time.”
Unlike many state Capitol buildings around the country, visitors to the Michigan Capitol aren’t subject to metal detectors or a security checkpoint upon entry and are allowed to bring firearms into the building. The Republican-led Legislature would need to approve an appropriation to pay for added security infrastructure.
Members of the six-member appointed state panel have been hesitant to take action without legislative buy-in. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, voiced support last week for an open carry ban in the building, but Speaker of the House-elect Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, said the Commission doesn’t have the legal authority to make this rule.
“The Speaker will be looking at options for handling that moving forward,” said Wentworth’s spokeswoman in a statement. “In the meantime, the Michigan State Police will be enforcing the new ruling. In order to ensure there is no confusion in the Capitol, Speaker Wentworth asks everyone to respect the Michigan State Police and the rules they enforce.”
The Commission’s legal counsel agreed with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s opinion over the summer that the panel can ban firearms inside the building.
Democrats, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday, said the new rule was “a good start,” but a full firearms ban in the Capitol building is the next step.
“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.”
In September, the commission voted 4-2 against a proposal to completely prohibit outside firearms in the Capitol. During that same meeting, members failed to pass a motion to ban open carry with a split 3-3 vote. Commissioners Bill Kandler, Joan Bauer and Kerry Chartkoff voted for the ban, while Chair Gary Randall, Vice-chair John Truscott and Commissioner Margaret O’Brien opposed it.
All offered brief words of support for the new open carry ban. Chartkoff, in particular, called it “the biggest issue we’ve faced” in the history of the Capitol Commission.
“I think it’s one of the most difficult ones to face the Capitol Commission or any of its predecessors,” she said. “I have personally received thousands of emails on this issue, many of them extremely well-written both pro and con… Many of them would like us to go further, but I think we all recognize that this is an important first step.”
The Commission revisited the open carry question in the wake of last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. Armed protesters opposing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 business closures stormed the Michigan Capitol in April, prompting months of discussions over a complete firearms ban in the Capitol.
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