LANSING, Mich. – It’s been one month since open carry was banned from the Michigan Capitol following an attack on the U.S. Capitol and now a fight to ban all firearms from the statehouse is ahead.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's proposed $67 billion state budget proposes a $5 million allocation for improving Capitol security. Public Information Officer for the State Budget Office Kurt Weiss said the plan would finance security staffing and equipment like metal detectors needed to implement a weapons ban, including a ban on concealed pistols.
The Michigan Capitol Commission, which is responsible for making decisions concerning the upkeep of the Capitol building and grounds banned open carry firearms on Jan. 11 after months of reluctance to take on that responsibility. Armed protesters entered the state Capitol in April demanding to be allowed into legislative chambers in opposition to Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions.
Commission Vice Chairman John Truscott, who looked into the feasibility and cost of a complete guns ban last year, said the commission didn't make any new budget requests and any further discussions about security systems in the building should be by elected officials.
“We maintain the building and its historic significance. The weapons issue was unfortunately thrust on us by the attorney general’s opinion — it was never the intent of the Legislature to have the Capitol Commission making policy decisions," Truscott said.
The governor has supported a full weapons ban in the Capitol. Whitmer spokesman Robert Leddy noted the governor's concern for the thousands of people who visit the building every year.
“It’s important for people to feel safe inside the Michigan Capitol building, especially the thousands of elementary students who visit each year," Leddy said. "The Republican-led Legislature and the Michigan Capitol Commission said that a lack of funds has prevented them from taking action to ban weapons, which is why Governor Whitmer included this funding in her budget. We hope this will help them do the right thing and protect everyone who enters the Capitol by banning firearms.”
Both leaders of the Republican-led Legislature expressed support for Michigan State Police enforcing the open carry ban shortly after it was enacted, but have expressed disapproval for a concealed carry ban.
House Speaker Jason Wentworth's spokeswoman Lynn Afendoulis, responding to AP's request for comment on concealed carry in the Capitol said, “The speaker has been clear that we will respect the MSP’s enforcement of the Capitol Commission’s decision to ban open carry.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey's office did not return a request for comment.
Democratic Sen. Rosemary Bayer, who is a sponsor of legislation to ban all firearms from the building, said it's too unfortunate the Capitol Commission refused to handle the firearms issue and now the legislature will have to act.
“Most people think this is crazy that we’re doing this and we still allow this to happen," she said. "We need to bring pressure to bear on those people, those very small minority who thinks that this is OK."
Both the budget proposal and legislation to ban firearms would have be approved by the Legislature.
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.