GOP leader backing Capitol open carry ban is ‘absolutely helpful,’ commission vice chair says

Dems say it’s too little, too late, want immediate action

Michigan Militia at the Second Amendment March at the Capitol, Sept. 17, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins
Updated, 5:26 p.m., 1/8/21

Michigan Democrats and gun control groups are once again calling on the Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) to ban firearms at the Capitol, and now even state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) is backing one restriction. 

Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann said the Republican leader is supportive of a ban on the open carry of firearms in the Capitol, but did not specify whether he would support a ban on concealed carry in the state building. 

It’s not clear if new House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) will back restrictions.

Some Democrats say that Shirkey’s support is long overdue and shouldn’t stop at open carry in light of this week’s events.

The U.S. Capitol was violently overrun by Trump supporters Wednesday and the Michigan Capitol was temporarily shut down Thursday for a bomb threat. New House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.), Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) and Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) issued a statement Friday calling on the MSCC to convene an emergency hearing to ban guns in the Capitol building. 

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“Though we were appalled by what transpired, not a single member of the Michigan Legislature should be shocked — because it was our Capitol — where we gather to do the people’s work day in and day out — that was used as a dress rehearsal for exactly what happened yesterday,” the House Democrats wrote, referencing to a protest in April where heavily armed anti-Whitmer protestors stormed Michigan’s Capitol building.

Since then, a plot to kidnap and kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was thwarted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Capitol building was closed during the Electoral College vote in December due to a credible threat. 

Banning firearms has repeatedly been brought up throughout this past year, led by Democrats in both the House and Senate, but no action has been taken by the MSCC or the GOP-led Legislature.

Now Democrats say there isn’t time to waste. 

“Today we are calling on Michigan’s Capitol Commission to stop dragging their feet and immediately schedule an emergency meeting to take steps to secure the building before the Legislature returns to session on January 13, 2021,” the three House Democrats wrote.

The Michigan chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, the grassroots networks of Everytown for Gun Safety also are calling on the panel to act.

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“From the very first time armed extremists showed up at the Michigan Capitol to intimidate lawmakers — proudly displaying Confederate flags and nooses — we knew they were a real and imminent threat to the safety of Michiganders and to our democracy,” said Emily Durbin, volunteer with the Michigan Chapter of Moms Demand Action. “If the thwarted plot to kidnap the governor didn’t make this crystal clear, the attempted coup at the United States Capitol surely opened more eyes to the threats posed by violent far right extremism. There must be action to prevent further violence and armed intimidation of our lawmakers, constituents, and all those who visit the Capitol to peacefully participate in democracy.”

Originally, the MSCC wasn’t planning to reconvene until Jan. 25, but on Friday evening, the commission set a new meeting date for Monday at 1 p.m. to discuss open carry in the Capitol. 

However, it’s unclear whether or not the MSCC will be able to accomplish any movement on this issue. The commission has met a number of times last year to discuss it, but argued whether or not they had the authority to implement the ban and wanted input from GOP legislative leaders. 

Legislative leaders and Attorney General Dana Nessel have said that the MSCC is able to put the ban in place. 

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

Truscott says Shirkey’s support is “absolutely helpful.”

“We have been trying to work with legislative leadership, last year and through the fall, and there were different indications of things that the legislature was going to be able to do. But things got quite chaotic at the end of the year, with some of the issues and they just didn’t. They weren’t able to get to it,” Truscott said. 

“I think among most commissioners it’s still a strong opinion and belief, but I think we’re past that … I guess the legislation wasn’t written clearly enough, and it is what it is we, we may just have to deal with it,” he added.

State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) says Republican leadership should have been supporting this ban earlier. 

“What has been very frustrating is for so many people in GOP leadership to now try to denounce this, and that’s great. It should be denounced, but they’re also incredibly late on that,” Pohutsky said. “If there had been more intentional language about how the things that have been happening for nearly a year now are unacceptable, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten to the point where people were literally invading our nation’s Capitol.”

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Pohutsky said that in March 2019 two men showed up to her office, asked her about her stance on certain gun restrictions, such as red flag laws and extreme risk protection orders background checks, and then one of the men moved his jacket to show that he had a gun clipped to his side. 

But since this interaction, “things have gotten much more deadly and much more dangerous,” Pohutsky said. 

“We’re not living in the same world that we were in March of 2019, and if this was happening then, then we need to be very, very proactive in terms of safety. And it’s great that Senator Shirkey is coming around to the fact that open carry has no place in the state capitol, but we need to go further than that,” she added.

As the Advance previously reported, state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) tried to ban guns from her office in 2019, but now-former House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said she couldn’t.

Pohutsky is pushing for the MSCC to meet and make a decision on a firearm ban at the Capitol before legislators return to Lansing next week for a new session. 

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Since the riot in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, conversations have shifted for the commission, Truscott said, noting that they are looking at a broader approach to security and working closely with the Michigan State Police.

“But we don’t control the budget,” Truscott said. 

“We had discussed [banning] concealed carry, we discussed weapons across the board, and we don’t have the equipment, the personnel or the budget to do it,” he said, noting that the MSCC estimates it would cost an additional $1 million a year to enforce. 

“So we could say, yeah, let’s do it, but it would be an empty policy, because we can’t enforce it,” Truscott said. 

During a press conference Friday, Whitmer stated that she hopes the MSCC will take action and restrict firearms in the Capitol. 

“I’ve made that position known for a long time now, and it is my hope that the Capitol Commission will take this action to protect people in our Capitol,” Whitmer said. “Now this isn’t just a place where legislators come to enact laws, although every one of them should have the right to be safe in their workplace. We also have a lot of staff that are here, a lot of journalists that show up. You know what else happens with this capital? It’s the people’s building. This is a place where fourth graders come to learn about state government. We have a duty to make sure that this is a place that is safe for all who come into our state Capitol.”