Panel needs more time to consider Capitol firearm ban

Commissioners say there will be action, but process is slow

By: - August 12, 2020 12:30 pm

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 11:35 a.m., 8/18/20

Those holding their breath for the Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) to take action on banning firearms at the state Capitol will have to wait a little longer, as Monday’s general meeting for the panel was again postponed as two members continue to gather information about possible courses of action.

“I don’t see it as a delay. There’s been no delay. We just aren’t done,” Commissioner Bill Kandler told the Advance Tuesday.

The six-member MSCC was meant to meet at 11 a.m. Monday, but that meeting was quietly canceled — marking the fifth time the small panel usually concerned with historic restoration and maintenance has put off a decision on Capitol firearm regulations.

Members have now not met since June 30 — 43 days ago. The next general meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 14.

Unlike most other state capitols, the Michigan Capitol does not have any restrictions in place for visitors or lawmakers wishing to openly carry firearms inside the building. This lack of regulation became the focus of public attention in April, when right-wing protesters entered the state Capitol during session and loomed over the Senate gallery with automatic-style rifles.

The MSCC’s last meeting on June 30 culminated in a plan for Kandler and Vice Chair John Truscott to embark on a series of meetings with key state officials — including those from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office, legislative leadership and the Michigan State Police — to gather information that the committee could use to inform its next steps.

Kandler and Truscott were expected to present that information at the Monday meeting, but the two requested more time as they are still in the process of formulating their report for the committee.

“[It’s] just John and I. We’re not full-time or anything. We’re just people, we’re volunteers,” Kandler said, adding that they don’t have additional staff to help them with the work. “…We have no experience with this. We haven’t ever done anything like this before.

Kandler said the process is nearing the finish line, and expects to have the report done before the general meeting — “barring some big problem or something, absolutely.”

He declined to say which officials he and Truscott have met with so far.

“Back until the [legal] opinion [from Attorney General Dana Nessel], we didn’t even really recognize it was within our scope. We just think of our scope as being historic preservation, taking care of the building, the grounds, etc. So it’s kind of new. So we’re trying to gather enough information so we can educate the whole commission,” Kandler said.

Commissioner Joan Bauer, a Democratic former state lawmaker from Lansing, told the Advance last month that she was “cautiously optimistic” about a fruitful Aug. 10 meeting.

With that meeting’s cancellation, Bauer says she is again frustrated by the slow process and has been open about her frustration with the other members.

“I’m very disappointed that we did not meet [Monday], and I’m disappointed that we don’t have a report from the subcommittee,” Bauer said. “…We need to act soon. We should have acted two or three months ago.”

As for Kandler’s own position on the matter, he says he is firmly in the anti-firearms in the Capitol* camp.

“I see no reason that there would be any weapons in the Capitol building myself,” Kandler said. “But I don’t know if that’s going to be the majority position. I want to do something. That would be my preference, but if it had to be something less than that, I’d do that. I certainly support whatever we can get done.”

Kandler said they are not looking to any specific state for inspiration, but are rather looking across the board and examining which options could work best for Michigan. Those options could include a full-out firearm prohibition, like in Alabama, a concealed carry permit-only rule, like in Minnesota, or more specific rules that vary state by state.

“We want to look at how other buildings are secure and what the policies are, what kind of resources it takes, what personnel it takes. We don’t know any of that,” Kandler said. “So we’re just trying to gather enough information that we can give the commission a pretty comprehensive evaluation of what it takes to do any level of policy.”

Any decision to create a new firearm policy for the state Capitol will require the vote of four out of the panel’s six members. If Kandler and Truscott complete their report earlier than Sept. 14, a special meeting could be called ahead of that date.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).