The Gongwer Blog

Capitol Commission: Security, Gun Ban Could Be On Table

By Nick Smith
Staff Writer
Posted: January 29, 2023 8:36 PM

Two years after a ban on the open carry of firearms inside the Capitol building, the policy on weapons inside the building or the implementation of additional security measures could be revisited.

Michigan State Capitol Commission Chair William Kandler told reporters following January 23's meeting – the first for the commission during the new term–that he expects security conversations to be ongoing.

He pointed to the increased square footage on the grounds with the completion of the Heritage Hall project and the increased number of entry points on the grounds as more places to keep secure and safe.

"The preference of most people in the building, including the legislators over the years, is for it to be open to the public," Mr. Kandler said. "You can go to most Capitol buildings– you're going to go through a metal detector or something to get in. So far, we haven't done that."

When asked if the installation of metal detectors or other security measures might be needed, he said officials are aware of security concerns.

Last month, Attorney General Dana Nessel said she spoke to the governor and legislative leadership ahead of the new legislative term about a ban on guns on the Capitol grounds (See Gongwer Michigan Report, December 15, 2022).

He said security is something that needs to regularly be kept in mind, given the change in the political climate in recent years in the state and country.

"The whole concept of political violence is something that ... we'd read about in banana republics around the world, and now we're experiencing it here," Mr. Kandler said. "We're a bad example for the world now, so people have to at least be aware of that. … We're always thinking about security."

In 2021, after several months of discussions on the legality, the commission approved a ban on the open carry of guns inside the Capitol (See Gongwer Michigan Report, January 11, 2021).

The move came after armed individuals entered the Capitol in April 2020. Some individuals stood watching Senate session from the gallery that day, including multiple individuals later charged in the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Currently, concealed carry of firearms is still permitted, as is the possession of a gun on Capitol grounds. Visitors to the Capitol with a concealed pistol must have a valid concealed pistol license to carry.

Mr. Kandler said he has been speaking with officials for over a year about the issue of firearms in the building. The commission did not have the votes for a full ban in 2021, only for open carry.

He said if a full ban were enacted, the mechanics of making it work and efficiently getting people inside the building would have to be considered.

"How many people per hour are going to get in and out, and are people going to be lined up to get in and out?" Mr. Kandler said. "What kind of technology do you use, how many doors and entrances do you want to leave open for people to get in and out, so it's kind of complex, but we talked about it quite a bit."

Mr. Kandler pointed out that there was a ruling from Ms. Nessel in 2020 stating that the commission could ban guns inside the building. An outside legal opinion was obtained that reached the same conclusion.

"The Legislature can always pass a law, too," Mr. Kandler said. "Either way, it could work."

Commissioner Tim Bowlin told reporters that any additional security measures in the Capitol would come down to cost.

"It's a matter of functionality. It's about providing the visitors and tenants of this building a secure and safe environment," he said.

Rob Blackshaw, head of Capitol Facilities, told reporters he has not yet been approached about the issue of Capitol security, adding his job is to execute whatever policy is enacted.

"We'll see what this Legislature, what they bring to us," Mr. Blackshaw said.

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