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Angry state senators debate gun rights; resolution passes along party lines

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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Gun rights were at the center of a passionate state Senate debate on Wednesday. The symbolic gesture on the part of the Senate Republican majority was also a proxy battle over COVID-19 restrictions in Michigan and Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers.

The issue was Senate Resolution 22, which registered the Senate’s opposition to any efforts at the federal or state levels to impose new firearm restrictions.The measure rang harsh to Democrats with the memory still fresh of armed protests last year at the state Capitol, of demonstrators carrying guns into the Senate gallery, and an alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer. Not to mention the continued disagreement on accepting and distributing federal COVID response funds.

“How dare you?” demanded Senator Erika Geiss (D-Taylor). “More than 15,000 Michiganders are dead from COVID-19, but you want to talk guns. Colleagues, this resolution is four pages of dark, insurrection-laden language and militia support which challenges the laws of this land.”

But the sponsor, Senator Lana Theis (R-Brighton), said the resolution is meant only to show support for the 2nd Amendment and the right to use firearms in self-defense.

“We’re going to call this ‘insurrection’ to uphold that?” she said. 

But Theis also acknowledged a broader message.

“We have seen more tyranny in government in the last year than we have seen in an extraordinarily long time,” she said. “And we know in history it’s very uncommon for government to give their tyranny back up once they’ve taken it.”

The debate took place on the same day Republicans finalized GOP bills with their version of COVID response spending and sent the bills to Whitmer’s desk. The measures seek to reign in executive power and to give the Legislature more influence over how that money is doled out.

The next move is Whitmer’s. She’s been protective of her administration's powers to deal with the health emergency, but also said the supplemental budget that includes COVID funds is an urgent matter.

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