The Michigan Capitol Commission banned the open carry of guns in the Michigan Capitol in a unanimous decision Monday. This move comes a week after pro-Trump extremists  — some of whom were armed — breached the U.S Capitol in Washington, D.C., leaving five dead

The six-member Michigan Capitol Commission is majority Republican. Members include Maragret O’Brien (R), the Secretary of the Senate; Gary Randall (R), the Clerk of the Michigan House of Representatives; the Capitol historian Kerry Chartkoff and three others. 

Many state lawmakers called for the ban of open carry laws in April 2020 when Michigan Militia members and other protestors stormed the state Capitol in Lansing, calling for the removal of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the termination of the recently-extended COVID-19 stay-at-home order. The New York Times called the April events a “dress rehearsal” for the deadly chaos in D.C last week.

Some of those present at the protests in April were later charged in connection with the October plot to kidnap Whitmer and other Democratic governors.

Javed Ali, Towsley Policymaker in Residence at the Ford School of Public Policy, said there were many factors contributing to the Capitol riots last week, including deep polarization and misinformation spread through social media. He also said the April protests in Michigan may have set an example for the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week. 

“Developments in Michigan have been a blueprint, unfortunately … for some folks who then probably tried to apply some of those lessons, or some of those tactics and techniques, into the Capitol siege,” Ali said. “That’s another piece of this puzzle where events here probably have shaped events at a national level.”

The open carry ban also comes in the wake of the FBI announcing that armed protests are planned in all 50 state capitols during the week of the inauguration. 

Ali, a former FBI employee, emphasized the importance of taking the message seriously.

“That was not sent lightly,” Ali said. “As someone who used to write bulletins like that and review them, (that was not sent lightly).” 

LSA sophomore Alex Dumont is the communications director at Done Waiting, a volunteer-run progressive political organization chaired by former Congressional candidate Solomon Rajput. Dumont said he was nervous following growing tensions in D.C. and around the country.

“I think it’s going to get more and more dangerous as we get closer to President-elect Biden’s inauguration,” Dumont said.

Some — including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel — have said they believe the open carry ban is a step in the right direction but is not enough to stop violence from occurring in the capital.

In a tweet posted Monday, Nessel said more needs to be done to protect the Capitol and those inside. Nessel has repeatedly said the Capitol is not safe. 

“Many of the worst mass shootings in history have involved handguns alone (including Virginia Tech),” Nessel wrote. “But by all means, celebrate the banning of ‘open carry’ today. Guns you can’t readily see are just as deadly as those you can.” 

Whitmer echoed Nessel’s concerns in a Monday statement, saying all weapons should be banned in the Capitol.

“The Capitol Commission’s action to ban open carry guns at the Capitol is a good start, but more action is needed,” Whitmer said in the statement. “On a normal day, hundreds of people walk through the Capitol, including groups of fourth graders, teachers, and parents on school field trips to learn about state government. That’s why we must take action to ban all weapons at the Capitol to keep Michiganders safe.”

In an interview with The Daily, State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, agreed the open carry ban is inadequate, saying more needs to be done to prevent violence. 

“In some ways it’s just as scary to know that people are walking around the Capitol concealed-carrying guns,” Rabhi said. “We need a full ban on firearms in the Capitol. There is no reason why anybody should have a gun in the Capitol.”

Rabhi stressed the additional impact the violence at the U.S. Capitol and the possibility of similar events in Michigan may have on people of color. 

“There is an added layer of consideration for these types of things for people of color because these are armed insurrectionist traitors who are carrying the banners of representation of the Confederacy,” Rabhi said. “These are racially charged symbols. The intent of these people is clear. We do not want anybody to feel silenced or to feel like they do not have a voice because of these terrorists.”

There has previously been reluctance to pass an open carry ban at the Michigan Capitol from many Republicans, and changes were slow to come about over the past year. 

According to NPR, state Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, who is the incoming Michigan House Speaker, said he believed the commission overstepped by voting to ban the open carry of guns at the Capitol. Wentworth did, however, encourage citizens to follow the ruling and said the police would be enforcing the ban. 

“The Speaker is grateful for the work of the Capitol Commission, but it does not have the authority to set policy in the Capitol … In the meantime, the Michigan State Police will be enforcing the new ruling,” a statement from Wentworth’s office said. “In order to ensure there is no confusion at the Capitol, speaker Wentworth asks everyone to respect the Michigan State Police and the rules they enforce.”

Following the events in April, Whitmer wanted to ban guns from the Capitol. Subsequently, the Michigan Capitol Commission voted to create a panel which would determine whether this was a legal action, largely ignoring a formal opinion written by Nessel stating the Commission has the authority to make rulings of this sort.

Rabhi claimed that the slow proceedings were a result of interference by Republican lawmakers.

“They (the Commission) had been instructed, essentially, to not have any type of firearm ban by their leadership in the House and the Senate,” Rabhi said.

Ali, who is familiar with the legal debate on open carry laws, said he believes if you cannot carry a gun in the U.S. Capitol, the same law should apply in Michigan.

“There was no law on the books last year to bring (loaded) automatic weapons into the state Capitol, but … as a national security professional in counterterrorism, I would’ve argued the edge of where the Second Amendment starts and stops,” Ali said. “In Washington, you can’t bring a loaded weapon into a government building, so why would you be able to do that in a government facility in Michigan? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Ali acknowledged this is a partisan issue but said from a national security and public safety lens, he thinks only sworn law enforcement officers should be able to carry weapons in a government facility.

Dumont agreed there is an intimidation element to carrying guns into government buildings.

“I think weapons in a building that we’re supposed to create laws for the better for the people of Michigan … is an intimidation tactic by those groups,” Dumont said. “We have to protect our democracy and ban weapons from the Capitol building.”

College Republicans at the University of Michigan declined the Daily’s request for comment. 

Daily Staff Reporter Brooke Van Horne can be reached at brookevh@umich.edu.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here