by Scott McClallen
The Michigan State Capitol Commission on Monday voted to form a five-member committee to study whether it has the authority to ban guns from Capitol grounds, to seek input from the legislature and the executive branches, and report a recommendation to the Commission.
Chair Gary Randall said the committee will meet as soon as next week if members’ schedules allow.
Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a formal opinion Monday in which she concluded the Commission has the authority to ban guns on Capitol grounds.
House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, requested the opinion on Saturday.
The request follows an April 30 protest against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders that shuttered businesses throughout the state during the coronavirus pandemic. During the protests, several demonstrators brandishing firearms entered the Capitol and urged lawmakers not to extend Whitmer’s state of emergency. Some watched proceedings from the gallery.
Michigan’s open-carry law doesn’t apply to all buildings, such as in the Michigan Supreme Court, without prior approval, Nessel wrote.
“In Michigan, the concept of ‘open carry’ does not provide the unfettered right to bring firearms into any public space,” Nessel wrote in her opinion. “Numerous restrictions already exist on openly carrying firearms in public places.”
“With this opinion, it is my fervent hope that the Commission acts responsibly and takes meaningful steps to protect the safety of those at our State Capitol because the wheels of democracy cannot freely turn under the threat of violence,” Nessel said in statement.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, asked the Commission in a Monday letter to delay the vote and plan to meet with legislative leaders, Senate and House sergeants, and Michigan State Police.
“The choice to allow or disallow the open carry of firearms brings with it the need for a thorough review of how the policy will be implemented and communicated to the public,” Shirkey wrote.
Shirkey said the complex decision must balance citizen expectations to demonstrate while providing safety to legislators, staff and visitors.
“A simple vote of the Commission will not be an adequate solution to this problem,” Shirkey wrote. “We must work together to evaluate our options and develop a thoughtful policy for our workplace and our citizens.”
Shirkey previously denounced protestors who used intimidation to scare legislators.
Capitol Commission Legal Counsel Amy Shaw said she believed the authority to ban guns on the property belonged to the legislature.
“The Commission is the custodian,” Shaw said on a Monday Zoom call. “Nowhere does it confer the … commission the police or public policy-making powers of the state.”
Shaw recommended the commision seek outside counsel and input.
Commissioner Kerry Chartkoff said she’d never seen residents open-carry firearms in the Capitol in her decades of experience in the building.
Chartkoff said the Commission has authority over the public areas of the Capitol, such as the rotunda and corridor, and over building procedures.
“We’re not just gardeners … we have the wellbeing of the Capitol and the wellbeing of all those who come to the building under our authority,” Chartkoff said.
“We’re supposed to protect the right of the public to visit the building and also protect the security and well-being of those who work there.”
Chartkoff encouraged the committee to act after careful and deliberate review.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square.