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MI State Capitol Commission votes to ban open carry of guns inside Capitol building

man in white shirt and blue tie puts hand over stomach and has a holster with a gun on it on his left side
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The commission that manages the common areas of the Michigan Capitol adopted a policy Monday that bans openly carrying guns throughout much of the building, but with little hope the decision actually settled the question.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission voted 6-0 to adopt the new policy following the armed assault on the U.S. Capitol last week and people with guns swarming the state Capitol last April.

Under the new policy, only law enforcement and people with valid concealed pistol licenses may carry a gun into the Capitol. The commission opted against a stricter prohibition, arguing its power to adopt a full ban appears sketchy and it has no budget to take actions such as installing metal detectors at public entrances.

“We have no authority to implement the infrastructure to go beyond that at this point,” said Commissioner William Kandler. “We have no budget. We’re not experts in security.”

The decision was widely panned and faintly praised.

“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,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a statement released by her office. “I am hopeful that the Capitol Commission will recognize the need for further action, and I stand ready to assist in implementing this policy to keep Michiganders safe.”

Whitmer was also the target of an alleged plot to kidnap her over COVID-19 restrictions. Some members of the group met at the April protest in Lansing, according to investigators.

“Armed protesters used our state Capitol for a spring dress rehearsal for what went on in Washington D.C. last week,” said state Representative Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac). “The ban on open-carry firearms is long overdue and it is my hope we see further action.”

House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) said he thinks the commission exceeded its authority. This is from a statement released by his office:

“The Speaker is grateful for the work of the Capitol Commission, but it does not have the authority to set policy in the Capitol. The Speaker will be looking at options for handling that moving forward. In the meantime, the Michigan State Police will be enforcing the new ruling. In order to ensure there is no confusion at the Capitol, Speaker Wentworth asks everyone to respect the Michigan State Police and the rules they enforce.”

Wentworth’s spokesman said the GOP leader is considering next steps, such as introducing a bill to outline the rules (which would be subject to a veto by the governor) or filing a lawsuit to challenge the commission’s authority.

But Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said the commission has the authority and should go further than the rule adopted Monday.

“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,” she said. “I urge the commission or our Legislature to take the proper action and pass the necessary reforms that truly take into account the safety of those visiting and working in our Capitol.”

Here's what the new rule says:

No person may carry a firearm in the public areas inside the Michigan State Capitol Building. Exceptions to this include the Michigan State Police, Capitol Security Officers, Sergeants-at-Arms of the Michigan Senate or House of Representatives, law enforcement officers licensed by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards in the performance of their official duties, if the officer is in uniform or otherwise properly identified, and, a person with a valid Concealed Pistol License (CPL), issued by any state, who is carrying a weapon in compliance with Michigan CPL regulations.

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Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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