Firearm ban planned for Michigan Capitol
Conservative protest at the Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 30, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols
Close to three years after armed right-wing protesters swarmed the state Capitol and two weeks after a gunman killed three students at Michigan State University, the Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) approved on Monday a resolution to develop a plan to implement a total ban on firearms and enhance other security measures at the Capitol.
Commissioners voted 5-0 at their Monday meeting to approve the motion introduced by member Tim Bowlin. Member John Bollman was absent for Monday’s vote.
“We all have a story to tell about gun violence,” Bowlin said. “Today is about this body not just talking, but rather taking action within its authority.”
In January 2021, commissioners unanimously approved a ban on the open carry of firearms at the Capitol. Amid armed protests against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s health restrictions in the early days of the pandemic, soaring rates of right-wing violence and increased threats against public officials across the political spectrum, the governor and Democratic lawmakers have for years pushed to ban firearms at the Capitol.
Concealed carry of firearms is currently still permitted at the Capitol. Visitors who wish to carry a concealed weapon must have a valid license to do so.
Republican lawmakers have long voiced opposition to banning guns at the Capitol. Former State Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain), for example, in January 2021 slammed the MSCC for its decision to ban open carry at the Capitol. In January 2020, LaFave brought an AR-style gun to the Capitol for Whitmer’s “State of the State” address.
MSCC Vice Chair Joan Bauer said “while we would like to do it,” the resolution’s passage does not translate to an immediate ban on all weapons at the Capitol.
“Problem is you can’t snap your fingers and make it happen,” MSCC Chair William Kandler said of a firearm ban.
Following the commission’s vote, MSCC Executive Director Rob Blackshaw will craft a plan to implement the firearm ban and other safety measures, which may include adding security personnel and screening Capitol visitors with x-ray machines or metal detectors. The firearm ban at the Capitol would not pertain to law enforcement or Capitol security. Blackshaw will present the plan at the commissioners’ next monthly meeting; that date has yet to be announced.
Kandler also noted the MSCC will need funds for the new security plan. In her proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget, Whitmer included a current-year supplemental request for $5 million for Capitol security. That funding would need to be approved by the state House and Senate, both of which are now controlled by Democrats.
At Monday’s meeting, commissioners also approved a motion introduced by Bauer to limit public access to the Capitol. All five commissioners at the meeting backed the motion to allow Blackshaw to disable all swipe card access to the Capitol after hours except for one ground floor entrance. That east side entrance is currently watched by Michigan State Police 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The new entrance schedule will go into effect March 1, Blackshaw said.
Additionally, Bauer’s motion specified that the public may hold events at Heritage Hall, the Capitol’s visitor center, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Previously, hours for Heritage Hall events were not formally set.
The motion allows for there to be increased security before the total firearm ban is implemented, Kandler said.
“This is under the heading of things we can do in the meantime,” Kandler said. “When we get the whole system implemented, it’s going to be uncomfortable, inconvenient, different for all of us because we’re accustomed to coming and going, but that’s the world we live in right now.”
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