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Michigan State Capitol bans open carry of firearms inside building

The group that manages the Michigan State Capitol Building banned the open carry of firearms inside of the building on Monday. Michigan was one of just a handful of states that allowed people to openly carry guns in the state Capitol. 

In a unanimous vote, the Michigan Capitol Commission passed a motion that bans openly carrying weapons in the building, except for law enforcement officers, and still allows open carry on the grounds surrounding the Capitol. People who have a concealed pistol license can carry concealed weapons in the building. 

Some of Michigan's top Democrats are calling for further action, but commissioners said the open carry ban was as far as they could go. 

"We determined that the extreme limit of our real authority to actually implement something was to implement a ban on open carry," Commissioner William Kandler said. "We have no authority to implement the infrastructure to go beyond that at this point. We have no budget to do it. We're not experts in security."

Senators vote to approve the extension of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's emergency declaration in Lansing
A militia group with no political affiliation from Michigan stands in front of the Governors office after protesters occupied the state capitol building during a vote to approve the extension of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's emergency declaration/stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus outbreak, at the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on April 30, 2020. SETH HERALD / REUTERS

The commission had been studying the issue for several months. The policy change came several days after pro-Trump supporters attacked the United States Capitol. John Trustcott, vice-chair of the Michigan Capitol Commission, said commissioners were going to address the issue later this month, but moved it up because of what happened in Washington last week. Truscott added that Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey throwing his support behind an open carry ban last week helped the commission decide to take up the issue.  

"The Majority Leader respects the decision by the Capitol Commission and supports the ban on open carry inside the Capitol," said Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for Shirkey. 

Michigan's rules about guns in the Capitol drew national attention in April when armed protesters were in the Senate gallery while the Legislature was considering whether to extend Michigan's COVID-19 restrictions.

According to the Michigan Advance, nine other states allow both open and concealed carry of weapons in their state capitol buildings. Michigan was one of only three states that "lack related security measures of any kind," such as metal detectors.

Nine additional states have some restrictions on weapons, most of which only allow concealed carry. Thirty-one states prohibit firearms in their state capitol buildings.

Despite the open carry ban, some Michigan Democrats said the ruling does not go far enough and called for prohibiting all firearms in the Capitol. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the open carry ban is a "good start, but more action is needed."

"On a normal day, hundreds of people walk through the Capitol, including groups of fourth graders, teachers, and parents on school field trips to learn about state government. That's why we must take action to ban all weapons at the Capitol to keep Michiganders safe," Whitmer said in a statement.

Michigan's Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel wrote a legal opinion in May 2020 saying he commission could ban guns at the state Capitol. In a statement on Monday, Nessel urged commissioners or the Michigan Legislature to take further action. 

"Firearms – whether explicitly visible or concealed by clothing — possess the same capability to inflict injury and harm on others and only banning open carry does little to meaningfully improve the safety and security of our Capitol," Nessel said.

While Shirkey supports the open carry ban, Michigan's incoming House Speaker, Jason Wentworth, said in a statement that the Capitol Commission "does not have the authority to set policy in the Capitol" and will look to address that moving forward. Wentworth acknowledged that the Michigan State Police will be enforcing the rule and urged people to "respect the Michigan State Police and the rules they enforce."

Several incidents over the past year, including armed protests over the COVID-19 restrictions and the 2020 election, have raised questions about security among some Michigan lawmakers. CBS News has confirmed that the FBI sent out an alert to law enforcement across the country warning that groups are calling for the "storming" of government buildings in all 50 states if President Trump is removed from office prior to Inauguration Day.

In addition to the armed protesters at the Michigan Senate in the spring, federal and state law enforcement officials announced in October that they foiled a plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer and to attack the state Capitol and kidnap other government officials.

The Michigan Capitol was closed for a few hours on January 7, the day after the assault on the U.S. Capitol, due to a bomb threat. A suspect was charged Friday with calling in the threat. He also made threats against a Michigan Democratic state lawmaker in December, according to a complaint released by the Michigan Attorney General's office.

State Senator Dayna Polehanki posted the picture last April of armed men in the Senate gallery. She recently tweeted a photo of a helmet, gas mask and pepper spray that she plans to keep under her desk.

Commissioners said they don't have the authority to enact more strict firearm bans, but Polehanki disagreed and said they should have gone further.

"What they're saying is guns are still welcome, we just don't want to see them," Polehanki said. "It sends a false message that you're safe here."

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