Nessel tells commission it can ban guns in state Capitol

By: - May 8, 2020 2:22 pm

Conservative protest at the Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 30, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Updated, 6:21 a.m. 5/9/20

Guns can be prohibited from Capitol grounds, according to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Following the armed protest in the Capitol last week, Nessel wrote a letter to the Michigan State Capitol Commission, alerting them to its authority to prohibit firearms in the state Capitol.

“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 a press release Friday. “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.”

On April 30, more than 200 people protesting the stay-home order migrated from a rally outside the Capitol to the inside. About 20 protestors, some armed, stood in the State Senate gallery and shouted down at Senators. Meanwhile, outside the State House a large crowd of protestors outside the chamber demanded to be let in and berated police.

The protestors had to leave their signs — “Tyrants get the rope,” “Witchmer” among other sentiments aimed at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — outside. Signs are not allowed in the Capitol for safety reasons; however, Michigan is one of the few states that allows firearms within the Capitol.


Several legislators said they felt uncomfortable with the presence of the armed protestors. State Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) tweeted that some of her colleagues elected to wear bulletproof vests to work that day.

Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) sat in session that day “praying to God” that the same people protesting outside with swastikas, Confederate flags and other symbols of hate, would not open fire from the gallery, she said at the Wednesday Senate session.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission has the authority to act on the health and safety of lawmakers and visitors, Nessel said in her letter.

“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,” Nessel said in the press release. “Public safety demands no less, and a lawmaker’s desire to speak freely without fear of violence requires action be taken.” 

The commission is made up of the clerk of the House of Representatives, secretary of the Senate, two individuals jointly appointed by the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House and two individuals appointed by the governor.

Firearms are already barred from Michigan courtrooms, through an administrative order through the Michigan Supreme Court.

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

She added that she was prepared to defend the commission if any legal challenges were brought against it for voting to prohibit guns. 

The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A discussion on firearms in the Capitol is on the agenda for the Commission’s Monday meeting. The public can attend the meeting electronically over Zoom.

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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols covers government and statewide issues, including criminal justice, environmental issues, education and domestic and sexual violence. Anna is a former state government reporter for The Associated Press and most recently was a reporter for the Detroit News. Anna is a graduate of Michigan State University.