Michigan Capitol Commission delays decision on whether to ban guns from Capitol Building

New committee to be formed to look deeper into issue

Protesters carry rifles near the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Flag-waving, honking protesters drove past the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday to show their displeasure with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's orders to keep people at home and businesses locked during the new coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (Paul Sancya, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Capitol Commission has delayed the decision on whether to ban guns from the Capitol Building after legislators recently expressed fear over the actions of armed protesters.

Members of the Commission met during a Zoom call Monday and decided they needed more time to deliberate the topic. Many members said they would like to look deeper into the issue legally.

A committee will be formed to further investigate the issue before a vote is held, according to the Committee’s discussion.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Friday that the state commission has the authority to prohibit firearms in the Capitol, if it chooses to do so.

Nessel said that authority is “consistent with the current state of the law regarding firearms in public buildings” and an informational letter sent to Speaker (Lee) Chatfield in 2018.

“The Capitol is a place for free expression of thought and debate, but the freedom of civil discourse does not imply the right to threaten others with harm or violence,” Nessel said. “In our current environment and as the chief law enforcement officer in this state, I am gravely concerned for the safety of both our legislative members and the public at large.

“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 Capitol facilities. 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.”

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“The right to keep and bear arms," Chatfield said. "People have a right to do that.”

The Commission, which manages the Capitol grounds and building, is made up of the Secretary of the Senate, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, two individuals jointly appointed by the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House, and two individuals appointed by the governor.

Nessel wrote in her letter to commissioners that they have the legal authority to ensure the “safety of the visiting public, as well as those who carry out the people’s work by prohibiting firearms within the Capitol building.”

Nessel said the regulation of firearms generally stems from state statute, but the prohibition of firearms from public spaces does not need to originate from the Legislature.

“The concept of ‘open carry’ in Michigan law does not provide the unfettered right to bring firearms into any public space,” Nessel wrote in her letter.

The Supreme Court also ruled that state law, which preempts regulations by local units of government, does not apply to school districts. Therefore, a non-local unit of government – such as a school district, the Supreme Court or the Michigan State Capitol Commission – may lawfully impose regulations that impact firearms.

Nessel said in her letter that residents are currently permitted to enter the Capitol in body armor and armed with high-capacity loaded semi-automatic assault weapons.

“This is permitted during active legislative sessions and during moments of controversial debate, where emotions and passions are known to run hot,” she wrote. “At the risk of stating the obvious, this is an absurdly dangerous combination that would cause the heart of any security expert to skip a beat.”

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During recent protests at the Capitol, many residents have been carrying firearms leading lawmakers and other Capitol employees to express that they felt threatened and feared for their safety.

“You have a constitutional right to protest and you have a right to keep and bare arms, but you don’t have a constitutional right to do both at the same time," Chatfield said. "I think we have to be very careful about that.”

Chatfield believes it’s his duty to uphold those constitutional rights regardless of the circumstances.

“Constitutional rights are very important to me and I think it’s only right that we honor those because the people give us our constitution,” Chatfield said.

“If the Capital Commission fails to act tomorrow, I’m very concerned that ultimately they’ll have blood on their hands,” Nessel said Sunday.

Statement from House Democrats:

Here is a letter from House Democrats to the Commission, requesting the prohibition of firearms at the Capitol.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.