Capitol commissioner: Delay on gun ban is ‘potentially dangerous’

By: - October 23, 2020 8:49 am

Second Amendment March at the Capitol, Sept. 17, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

A small historic commission’s decision on whether to ban firearms from the currently unregulated Michigan state Capitol continues to face delays, nearly six months into its deliberations.

Even after an elaborate domestic terrorist plot to kidnap and murder Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — and storm the state Capitol with hundreds of armed men — was derailed by law enforcement, not much seems to have changed.

Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) member Joan Bauer, a Democratic former state lawmaker from Lansing, told the Advance she was shocked and distressed to read the news on Oct. 8 about the plot — and floored that the MSCC’s meeting, canceled days before, was not rescheduled in the wake of the news.

“People think we’re crazy [for not taking action],” Bauer said.

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“The very revelation that there was a plot to take the governor hostage was just stunning and shocking and dismaying,” Bauer said. “But then when I read that, as part of this, there was a plan for 200 people with guns to storm the Capital and take hostages,  I was stunned again, and felt even more strongly that we need to take action to ban guns.”

The MSCC’s latest monthly meeting had been scheduled for Oct. 5, just three days before the anti-government extremist plot was uncovered. Commissioner Bill Kandler said the cancelation was due to the panel not having anything on its agenda.

That marked the seventh time the commission has had the opportunity to take action on firearms in the Capitol, but chose to delay the decision. The next general meeting is slated for 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 9.

The primary holdup now appears to be continued talks between commissioners and GOP legislative leadership. Kandler and MSCC Vice Chair John Truscott have met with numerous government officials and law enforcement members since June in an attempt to collect more information about what any sort of gun regulation in the Capitol might look like.

Kandler’s and Truscott’s conversations with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) are ongoing. Kandler told the Advance on Oct. 9 that they had a productive conversation, but Shirkey and Chatfield wanted to discuss with their caucus before coming back for another conversation with the panel.

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Kandler did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the current status of the talks.

Shirkey and Chatfield have been vocal about defending the Second Amendment, and have both appeared at pro-gun rallies at the state Capitol.

“I thought when I first heard about the plots, that certainly the Legislature would see their responsibility and … do all that they could to keep people safe,” Bauer said. “And so I am very dismayed to hear the most recent comments that came from leadership of the House and Senate, that there is still going to be no action, as far as they’re concerned.”

Shortly after the news broke on Oct. 8 about the plot against Whitmer, Shirkey told reporters that he does not believe it is possible to “legislate and get rid of all risk.”

“If we did that it would not be a country that any of us would like, nor would we recognize,” Shirkey said, indicating that he does not think enforcing a gun ban could have protected against the terrorist plot.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield (left) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (right) | Allison Donahue

On Saturday, Chatfield made it clear that he would like the GOP-led state Legislature to be in charge of any decision.

“That’s what our Constitution delineates, as well, that we have control over our chamber. And I think it should be a decision left up to the Legislature,” Chatfield told the Detroit News.

“So put it up for a vote,” state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) responded on Twitter.

Bauer said she agrees that the “easiest, fastest and most efficient way” to ban weapons from the Capitol would be to have lawmakers do so, but: “They have made it abundantly clear they’re not going to do that.”

Now, she says, is the time when MSCC members should be taking matters into their own hands and swiftly passing at least a ban on open carry. Bauer said she knows at least two of her fellow members, Kandler and Kerry Chartkoff, would support an open carry ban, but she is not sure about the others and is dismayed that the news of the terrorist plot hasn’t spurred quicker action.

Truscott, a Republican consultant and CEO of the Lansing public relations firm Truscott Rossman, has largely echoed Chatfield’s sentiment that the decision should be up to the state Legislature.

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But despite rhetoric from GOP leadership, some Republican lawmakers have indicated that they would at least support some sort of open carry ban in the House and Senate galleries. According to the Detroit News, that includes state Reps. Matt Hall (R-Marshall) and Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis).

“It’s within our legal authority, and, of course, it’s now more than ever our moral responsibility to do all that we can. And we’re not even meeting this month — which is very disappointing, and it’s potentially dangerous that we are not taking action, Bauer said.

“Having been a state rep, being in that building every week, I cannot imagine how legislators feel being in that gallery in the House and Senate floors, knowing that guns are allowed in our Capitol after the revelation that they were going to take hostages,” Bauer said. “That, and then I think of all the people who work in the Capitol, with offices in the Capitol who come every day staffers, schoolchildren, visitors, people from other states who come in to tour.

“It’s beyond my comprehension that our commission doesn’t feel the responsibility to act,” she said.

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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).