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Commission bans weapons in state capitol, with exception for lawmakers

The Senate chambers in the Michigan state capitol in Lansing.
Rick Brewer
WCMU file
Senate chambers in the Michigan state capitol in Lansing.

The days of concealed pistol license holders freely bringing handguns into the Michigan state Capitol building are coming to an end.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to largely ban firearms, explosives, and other weapons from the building.

Commissioner Tim Bowlin said he’s been looking for ways to make the capitol more secure for over two decades.

“It’s been tough because being open to the public is something that we want to maintain at all times as well. It wasn’t until newer technology that we found that we could do something a little more progressive, if you will,” Bowlin said.

The plan involves using leased pass-through detection systems at capitol entrances to screen for weapons.

Those systems have already been installed and are currently being calibrated. State police may ask visitors to the capitol to open their bags, for example, if a detector beeps for a laptop.

According to the new security procedure, the ban will take effect three days after legislative leadership and the governor receive written notice that the system is operational.

That’s likely to happen by early September, when lawmakers return from summer break.

Before the commission approved it the plan Wednesday, it voted 4-2 to exempt lawmakers with concealed pistol licenses from the ban.

Bowlin said legislators on both sides of the aisle approached him about that carve-out.

“Were we doing anything to impede the member from getting or being able to vote? That was a question that was brought to my attention,” he said.

The original version of the policy lumped lawmakers in with the general public, only exempting specific groups like on-duty law enforcement and authorized federal agents.

Capitol Commission Chair Bill Kandler said he would’ve preferred to keep it that way.

“The people doing business in this building, the legislators, are probably the most protected people in the city, maybe in the state. They have three police forces protecting them now. The Sergeant-at-arms in the Senate, the Sergeant-at-arms in the House, and Michigan State Police. And I think that’s pretty well adequate to protect them,” Kandler told reporters.

Kandler noted the exception leaves room for nearly 150 more people to carry a gun into the capitol.

Some members of the state legislature’s Second Amendment Caucus that had been critical of the proposal had raised the possibility of a lawsuit over the measures.

Caucus chair, Representative Phil Green (R-Millington), said the commission was “wise in adding the exemption for legislators.”

“Questions still persist on the legality of the commission making these political decisions as well as others that should be exempted per federal law such as retired law enforcement that maintain their credentials,” Green said.

Though he clarified those questions fell more under the category of general concerns rather than ones actively being discussed with legal counsel.

Outside of the capitol, weapon detectors have already gone into use at the Anderson House Office Building.

That’s after House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) banned House staff from carrying guns on the House floor, and now into the building. That ban does not currently extend to legislators or the general public.

A spokesperson for Tate confirmed he’s reviewing legislation that has already been introduced to keep weapons from entering legislative office buildings in general.

Senate offices have not yet installed weapon detectors.

Colin Jackson is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.