Capitol gun ban tabled again, Dem rep. says she has to ‘work in fear’

Panel plans to meet with GOP leaders

Open carry rally at the Michigan Capitol, Sept. 10, 2019 | Claire Moore

A six-member commission tasked with implementing — or not — the state Capitol’s firearms ban adjourned Monday without a plan of action for a new policy, but with a plan to meet with GOP legislative leadership before moving forward.

Monday’s meeting was the first time the Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) had met in two and a half months. It was also the sixth time the panel has delayed a decision on whether (and, if so, how) to ban guns from the Capitol building.

Visitors are currently able to openly carry firearms inside the Capitol without any restrictions or security checkpoints. That lack of regulation became a flashpoint in April, when right-wing protesters opposing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 measures pressed their way into the Senate gallery and flaunted their weapons above lawmakers in session.

The MSCC, usually concerned with matters of historic restoration and grounds maintenance, last met on June 30. That meeting set Vice Chair John Truscott and Commissioner Bill Kandler on a mission to meet with state experts and officials, fact-find and compile what they learned into a report for the panel to review.

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Attorney General Dana Nessel had confirmed in May that the MSCC has the legal authority to ban firearms at the state Capitol — a legal opinion which was then echoed by outside counsel and former Michigan chief deputy attorney general Gary Gordon, who was hired by the commission to confirm its powers.

Truscott and Kandler had planned to present their report on Aug. 10, but canceled that meeting when they realized they needed more time to finish it.

But all six members finally held copies of their comprehensive report Monday, as Kandler and Truscott laid out information and options for the panel to consider.

There are essentially three possible pathways, Kandler said: Do nothing, implement a ban on open carry (which would still allow concealed carry), or implement an all-out weapons ban. All members vocalized their desire to act in some way, but there were disagreements about when and how.

After meeting with state government officials, the Michigan State Police, heads of security at the Michigan Supreme Court and more, Kandler and Truscott said they found that a complete ban would require lots of planning and coordination with the state Legislature to appropriate funds.

Panel needs more time to consider Capitol firearm ban

Details might include hiring a private security contractor to enforce the measure, which they estimated could cost upwards of $500,000. At least one magnetometer (about $5,600) would also be needed for a security checkpoint, with another two for backup.

There also would need to be a plan to start limiting points of access into the building so the security checkpoint would be effective. Kandler and Truscott emphasized that nothing would change if they voted today for a full weapons ban, as it would require work and planning to enforce it.

Only banning open carry, however, would be a much easier situation.

“Banning open carry would not be a problem for the state police,” Kandler said, as allowing only visible weapons would not necessitate magnetometers or even an outside security contract.

Two motions to make a swift decision Monday failed. The first was from Commissioner Joan Bauer, a Democratic former state lawmaker from Lansing, who moved that the panel adopt a policy prohibiting all firearms in the Capitol with immediate effect.

The second failed motion came from Kandler himself, who proposed an immediate ban on open carry as a starting point while the MSCC considers an all-out ban.

Commission has authority to ban firearms at Capitol, but delays decision again

Those who voted against both, including Truscott, noted that the panel should meet with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) in the near future to discuss a plan of action first.

Members voted unanimously to schedule that meeting, which both GOP leaders requested via letter on Thursday.

“As leaders of our respective legislative chambers, we believe this issue demands our attention,” Shirkey’s and Chatfield’s letter reads. “While we may adopt rules in our respective chambers concerning firearms, we recognize that any rule we adopt has implications for the entire building.

“Furthermore, any change in policy made by the Commission would require coordination amongst staff in the House and Senate. Therefore, we believe it is incumbent upon us to engage in a dialogue on this topic,” they continue.

The next general meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, Oct. 12, but a special meeting could be called earlier depending on how the meeting with Shirkey and Chatfield goes.

A panel keeps delaying action to ban guns in Michigan’s Capitol. But supporters remain optimistic.

Monday’s meeting ended with in-person public comments from state Reps. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) and Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac), who both urged commissioners to act before lives are put into danger again.

“It has been 137 days since armed gunmen stormed into this Capitol building brandishing weapons with the express intent of inciting fear and intimidation; 137 days since many of us who call this building a workplace have had to work in fear,” Anthony said.

She said her May 1 letter to the MSCC asking for action on firearms was never answered.

“It is not a matter of if something happens, if violence happens in this building. It is a matter of when,” Anthony said.

“The New Yorker and other publications have interviewed white supremacists that come from all over the country because their capitol buildings do not allow guns, and they come to Michigan because we do,” added Anthony, who is Black. “And I am sorry, but when those white supremacists come into this building, they are targeting people that look like Rep. Carter and I. We are terrified.”