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US Capitol attack reignites talk on guns in state Capitol, commission to meet today

LANSING — Concerns over security at Michigan’s Capitol have reignited after the U.S. Capitol came under attack by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters last week.

In Michigan, concealed and open carry firearms are allowed in the Capitol, but signs have been banned since 2012 after right-to-work protesters came to the Capitol.

Since last spring when armed protesters entered the building and yelled at members of security outside the legislative chambers to be let inside, calls to ban firearms in the statehouse have been made, but no changes have come in weapons policies. Changes may now come in the wake of the attack on the U.S. Capitol that interrupted Congress’s Electoral College vote for Joe Biden as president. Several people died, including a police officer, and numerous people were injured.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the Capitol and ultimately for making a decision on the future of firearms, has pushed back on accepting the responsibility and its leadership maintains its role should be limited.

The commission had scheduled a meeting at the end of the month, but moved up the date to today following the attack last week.

According to the Capitol Commission, tours alone bring in 115,000 people a year, not including those who work or visit to participate in the affairs of the Capitol. Though in-person tours during the pandemic have been halted, there are concerns for when visitors return.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer repeated her call on the Capitol Commission to ban firearms from the Capitol during a news conference on Friday, not just for those elected to work there, but for everyone who visits.

“It’s the people’s building. This is a place where fourth-graders come to learn about state government,” Whitmer said. “We have a duty to make sure that this is a place that is safe for all who come into our state Capitol. That means that we should have some restrictions with regard to people bringing weapons into this building.”

A spokesperson for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said Thursday that the senator would support a ban on open carry firearms within the Capitol building. Before this week he had not publicly expressed support to alter the firearms status for the Capitol.

Incoming House Speaker Jason Wentworth hasn’t moved far from his stance from November when he said he was looking forward to what the Capitol Commission would do. He then expressed support for the Second Amendment. He did express interest in continuing conversations about changes in an emailed statement Thursday.

Several members of the Legislature have been shaken by the events of last year. Some receive escorts to work and wear bulletproof vests.

Rep. Sarah Anthony, a Lansing Democrat, has pleaded with the Capitol Commission to act to prevent possible violence.

“Every time we as lawmakers, folks who give tours in that Capitol building, the schoolchildren that come into that building to talk about our state’s history, they are met with the thoughts, the ever-present violence, that could be inflicted upon them at any moment, because this Capitol Commission has decided not to act,” Anthony said on a Zoom call with fellow state representatives Thursday.

No metal detectors are at the entrances. The Capitol Commission leadership determined in September that installing metal detectors to enforce a firearms ban would be costly and possibly take away from the historical integrity of the building.

Metal detectors were temporarily brought into the Capitol in 1999 in order to screen protesters during the state’s takeover of the Detroit Public School System.

In October, the FBI and state law enforcement officials announced an alleged domestic terrorist plot by 14 men to kidnap and kill Whitmer out of frustrations surrounding her executive orders to curb the spread of coronavirus. One of the alleged plans was to recruit 200 men to hold hostages at the Capitol while they hold a “trial” for the governor.

The head of the law enforcement team that performs security for the outdoor Capitol grounds and the common areas of the Capitol, 1st Lt. Darren Green, said the Michigan State Police doesn’t have a stance on firearms in the Capitol, but offers the Capitol Commission and other bodies information on security protocol.

Green said even before the events of last spring, law enforcement has included political clashes and unrest in the state into their daily conversations about the safety of those working and visiting the Capitol.

On Thursday, the morning after the events in the nation’s capital, state police say there was a bomb threat made to the state Capitol. Police arrested a suspect later that day.

Despite events in Washington, D.C., and the bomb threat made in Michigan, Green said he has “the greatest amount of confidence that I could possibly have that our Capitol is secure and the people that come and visit are also going to be secure.”

This year has acted as a huge reminder to law enforcement that natural tendencies when things seem calm will not stand, Green said.

“A lot of things that have happened in Michigan and have happened nationally have kind of reaffirmed that you can’t ever be satisfied with complacency when it comes to security and protocols and procedures,” Green said.

Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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