Whitmer wants $5M in COVID relief plan for Capitol gun ban

A gun show
Alex Wong, Getty Images

A $5.6 billion COVID-19 recovery plan unveiled Tuesday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer carves out $5 million to be put toward upgrading security at the Michigan State Capitol.

The administration indicated it would send the formal request for a budget supplemental to lawmakers on Wednesday. The $5 million would go toward enforcing a weapons ban at the state Capitol.

Like everything else in Whitmer’s relief proposal, the appropriation would have to be approved by the GOP-majority state Legislature. 

The request for funds to establish the weapons ban comes months after right-wing protesters stormed the state Capitol in April over restrictions Whitmer put in place to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of armed protests have been held on the Capitol grounds since President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election.

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Whitmer, a Democrat, also became the target of an alleged right-wing extremist assassination plot in October. 

Calls to ban firearms at the Capitol were also renewed after supporters of former President Donald Trump mounted an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 general election. The invasion turned violent and resulted in five deaths. 

The Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) on Jan. 11 voted to enact a ban on the open carry of firearms in the state Capitol chambers. 

The commissioners’ decision was unanimous, but new House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) later indicated he does not believe the commission has the power to set Capitol policy. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has said he backs that ban.

Several lawmakers are still holding out for a ban on concealed carry, which MSCC members said would take additional funds to enact. That includes state Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia), who said the $5 million appropriation could pay for the additional staff and security equipment needed to enforce a full weapons ban. 

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“By requesting this funding, Governor Whitmer has demonstrated that she has made the safety of legislators, staff and Capitol visitors a priority and has likewise eliminated any excuses for the commission’s failure to get the job done by moving from a ban on open carry to a ban on all weapons,” Polehanki said. 

A House GOP spokesperson directed the Advance to state Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), chair of the state House Appropriations Committee, for comment. Albert previously indicated he wants Whitmer to ease COVID-19 restrictions on Michigan’s economy before the Legislature takes up distributing federal relief funds. 

Requests for comment made to Albert, to the governor’s office and to the Michigan Senate GOP spokesperson were not returned by the time of publication. 

The state reported “better than expected” revenues because the pandemic’s impact on its economy was not nearly as bad as expected, state Budget Director Dave Massaron noted during a Tuesday press teleconference.

The rest of Whitmer’s plan  — which includes allocating money for faster vaccine distribution, supporting small businesses and helping schools bring students back for in-person instruction — hinges on using billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief and $575 million in extra state funds.