LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A commission that oversees the Michigan Capitol voted Monday to further study the issue of banning guns from the building, days before another scheduled protest against the governor’s restrictions to curb the coronavirus.
The State Capitol Commission formed a subcommittee to seek input from the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has a ceremonial office in the Statehouse. The move came less than two weeks after some lawmakers said they felt intimidated by armed demonstrators who entered the building openly carrying, including in a public gallery overlooking the Senate.
Commission members heard conflicting legal advice at their meeting. It ended early due to racist and threatening messages posted in Zoom, which was how the public could watch and make comments.
State Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, wrote a formal opinion stating the panel has authority to prohibit firearms in the building. Amy Shaw, a part-time lawyer for the commission who also works for a Republican senator, said it can only adopt rules and procedures related to the building's upkeep.
“A public policy-making decision of this magnitude rests with the law-making body of the state: the Legislature,” she said.
Democratic legislators have requested immediate action to ban guns. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey urged the panel to meet with legislative leaders, state police, and House and Senate sergeants to “discuss the best policy going forward.”
House Minority Leader Christine Greig, a Democrat, said she was “appalled” by the commission's decision to “shirk their responsibility to make a decision regarding the safety of legislators, staff and members of the public on Capitol grounds. ... With very real threats of the continued presence of assault-style weapons at future meetings of the Legislature, and numerous and many specific threats of violence against legislators and statewide officials, this matter is not resolved."
Thursday's “Judgment Day” rally is being organized by Michigan United for Liberty, which recently sued to challenge Whitmer's stay-at-home orders and other directives. The nonprofit group said on social media Monday that Facebook removed its private group on Sunday.
The Detroit Metro Times reported the move came after the newspaper had asked Facebook about people threatening violence against Whitmer and others on four private Facebook groups. Facebook said last month it will ban the promotion of events that do not follow social distancing rules.
Michigan law does not prohibit people from openly carrying a gun in public, except in places such as courts and airports. They can carry a concealed pistol with a permit unless in schools, day care centers and other specified places.