FILE - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

(The Center Square) – In a letter sent to the chair of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, Attorney General Dana Nessel asserted the commission holds the legal authority to ban firearms in the State Capitol Building.

The MSCC’s authority includes ensuring the “safety of the visiting public, as well as those who carry out the People’s work by prohibiting firearms within the Capitol building,” Nessel wrote.

Nessel’s letter was ostensibly in response to an April 30 protest held by opponents of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic during which several protestors openly carrying firearms demanded entrance to the Capitol building. About 20 armed protestors watched legislative proceedings from the gallery.

Many Michigan lawmakers and residents – including staunch Second Amendment proponents – took issue with the openly brandishing protestors.

Michigan’s open-carry law does not apply to all public spaces, Nessel said.

“The concept of ‘open-carry’ in Michigan law does not provide the unfettered right to bring firearms into any public space,” she wrote.

She further noted the MSCC may ban weapons in state buildings without special enforcement authority granted by the state legislature.

For example, Nessel stated the Michigan Supreme Court bars firearms from all state courtrooms as well as any spaces used for official court business or by judicial employees. She also said Michigan’s open-carry law cannot be enforced on public school grounds, citing a Court of Appeals decision.

“The Capitol is a place for free expression of thought and debate,” Nessel wrote. “But the freedom of civil discourse does not imply the right to threaten others with harm or violence.”

“In our current environment and as the chief law enforcement officer in this state, I am gravely concerned for the safety of both our legislative members and the public at large,” Nessel continued. 

“With exceptions to those tasked with protecting our Capitol, the only way to assure that a violent episode does not occur is to act in concert with the many other state legislatures around the nation that have banned firearms in their capital facilities,” Nessel wrote.

“The employees at our Capitol and members of the public who visit are entitled to all the same protections as one would have at a courthouse and many other public venues. Public safety demands no less, and a lawmaker’s desire to speak freely without fear of violence requires action be taken.” 

Ultimately, wrote Nessel, the decision whether to ban firearms in the Capitol or not rests with the MSCC. Should the commission vote for a ban and a legal challenge ensues, Nessel granted her “pledge to defend the Commission from suit challenging a prohibition on firearms in the Capitol.”

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.