Michigan lawmakers agreed to ban open carry firearms at the state Capitol, but some members of the Legislature say the ban doesn't go far enough to protect Michiganders. Image via Shutterstock
Michigan lawmakers agreed to ban open carry firearms at the state Capitol, but some members of the Legislature say the ban doesn't go far enough to protect Michiganders.

Michigan leaders share with The ‘Gander what it’s like to lead in an era of bullets and riots at the Capitol.

LANSING, Mich.—After armed gunmen stormed the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, the images and video shocked the nation and the world. But this wasn’t just this year that violence erupted against democracy in Washington. It dates back to April 30, 2020, in the Lansing Capitol.

As men with assault rifles looked from the gallery down into the well of the state’s Senate last spring, the terrorism they represented was entirely lawful. It struck a chord with Sen. Jeremy Moss, the Michigan Senate’s only LGBTQ leader. 

“…To watch these protests unfold and to look out the window of the Michigan capitol as it’s happening and see Confederate and Nazi paraphenalia flying around along with Trump signs was very distressing,” he told The ‘Gander.

Unlike those rioters in Washington, the rioters in Michigan didn’t break a single law. 

And after a long road, finally something was done to prevent a repeat of what happened that day in April. Monday, the Michigan Capitol Commission, which had been reluctant to make a decision on weapons in the capitol, passed a rule prohibiting open carry of firearms within the building. 

The Commission had dragged its feet after its first contentious meeting on the issue was interrupted with violent threats to the Commissioners. Repeatedly, the Commission put responsibility for the decision of the Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature. They were even less willing to take up the issue even after the foiled plot to assassinate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the Legislature. 

Several members of that terrorist plot were armed, standing over Moss last year.

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“Bringing a gun into the Capitol is not a safe expression of the Second Amendment,” Moss said. “It is only an expression of intimidation, to disrupt our ability to govern and fulfill our constitutional obligations of the constituents that sent us there.”

But following the attack on Capitol Hill this year on Jan. 6 and the following bomb threat to Michigan’s Capitol Building Thursday, both the Commission and even the Republican state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) support bans on the open carry of firearms. 

Banning open carry of firearms and ensuring safety in the Capitol are very different things, explained state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia).

“Banning open carry is a big step in the right direction given where this conversation started last year, but does little to actually address the issue of safety in the Capitol,” Pohutsky told The ‘Gander.

“Until weapons are totally banned in the Capitol and the legislative offices, legislators, staff, and the public are still unsafe.”

Rep. Laurie Pohutsy (D-Livonia)

Pohutsky’s call for more substantive safety measures was echoed by the Lansing-based non-profit Progress Michigan, who said that Michigan is only as safe as leaders like Pohutsky, Shirkey and Moss. 

“Continuing to allow concealed weapons to enter the Michigan Capitol is unacceptable,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Our legislators, along with the custodial, security, and many other staff who work in these halls each day, deserve to carry out their jobs without the threat of violence.”

“Our democracy is only as safe as the people who are preserving it are.” 

Lonnie Scott, Progress Michigan

State Sen. Dayna Polehanki, another Livonia Democrat, has repeatedly introduced legislation to ban weapons on a larger scale from the Capitol, in an effort that died in the Michigan Legislature last year. She doesn’t think the Commission’s decision does enough to protect legislators and their staff.

“There is no reason any gun belongs in the Capitol, it’s absurd, the world thinks it’s absurd,” Polehanki said. 

“Bullets are bullets.”

REP. LAURIE POHUTSY (D-LIVONIA)

Scott of Progress Michigan pointed out that Polehanki is one of the members of the Michigan Legislature that keeps a bulletproof vest on site. 

“Since April, these legislators have been sounding the alarm about the potential for violence by armed white supremacist groups at government buildings, and unfortunately, they’ve been proven right based on what happened at the US Capitol last Wednesday,” she said. “The Michigan Capitol Commission should immediately ban all weapons in our state Capitol. The rot of white supremacy cannot imperil our democratic process any longer.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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