A panel including the clerk of the Michigan House and secretary of the Senate is debating whether to ban guns from the state capitol just weeks after armed protesters swarmed the building amid heated debate over extending COVID stay-at-home orders.
Shortly before the Michigan State Capitol Commission was set to discuss the matter on Monday, state Attorney General Dana Nessel published a formal opinion stating that the panel does have the legal right to bar the weapons.
In her opinion, she described how the lack of any restrictions on firearms allowed “unscreened, armed” protesters to enter the capitol’s grounds and congregate in the public galleries above the legislature floor.
“This has occurred even during times of protest and demonstration outside the Capitol building and moments of controversial debate on the legislative floors inside the Capitol building — situations where emotions and passions are known to run high,” she wrote. “Obviously, this is a potentially dangerous situation.”
She added that open carry laws in the state do not grant gun owners “the unfettered right to bring firearms into any public space,” pointing to churches and hospitals.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) called Monday morning for a delay of the commission’s decision so members can first discuss the question with legislative leaders, both chambers’ sergeants and Michigan state police.
“Our citizens have an expectation to freely demonstrate and redress their government at their state Capitol Building,” he wrote in a letter. “Likewise, legislators, staff, and visitors have an expectation of personal safety and security while on the premises. A simple vote of the Commission will not be an adequate solution to this problem.”
The commission, which is scheduled to debate the issue over video call on Monday, is made up of the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives, as well as members appointed by the Secretary, Clerk and governor.
The conversation comes about two weeks after pictures of armed protesters entering the capitol building and heckling the lawmakers were widely circulated online.
At the time of the protest, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and legislative Republicans were in a heated standoff over extending the governor’s stay-at-home orders.
State Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D) tweeted a picture of the protesters from the Senate floor, saying that some of her colleagues had donned bulletproof vests.
“Yes, it is nerve wracking to have people who are angry with you above you in the gallery holding rifles,” she told TPM at the time. “But this is legal in Michigan.”
Since then, the fight over the stay-at-home orders has moved from the legislature to the courts, with Republican lawmakers filing a lawsuit against the governor last week.
There, those armed protesters will not be able to leave such an impression. Per the National Center for State Courts, guns are not permitted in any Michigan courtroom without special permission from the judge.
Read Nessel’s formal opinion here: