Michigan state officials consider gun ban after armed protests

Gun-toting demonstrators in the Michigan State Capitol building prompt state officials to rethink open-carry rules.

    A protester at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on Thursday [Paul Sancya/AP Photo]
    A protester at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on Thursday [Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

    Legislators in the state of Michigan are reportedly considering new measures to ban guns from inside the State Capitol building after armed protesters staged a provocative protest there last week and prompted criticism from across the political spectrum in the United States. 

    Hundreds of anti-lockdown demonstrators, some of them armed, gathered at the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, last Thursday during a session which a skeleton crew of state legislators gathered to consider a measure rebuking Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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    The protesters - as well as many legislators - said the governor's measures, among the most strict in the nation, were excessive. On Wednesday, the Republican-led state legislature sued the governor in an effort to block her emergency measures.

    John Truscott, the Republican vice-chair of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, which manages, maintains and restores the buildings and its grounds, told local news outlets in Michigan that the commission is considering the logistics of a possible ban.

    "We've been dealing with what is the law, what is our jurisdiction. Is there any possibility of limiting people bringing loaded weapons in the building?" Truscott said. 

    Critics of the gun-toting protesters came from across the US political spectrum after images of them were broadcast across the country. Even Fox News Channel commentator Sean Hannity, a noted conservative supporter of gun rights and confidant of President Donald Trump, described the sight of armed, screaming protesters - many of them dressed in military clothing - as counterproductive to their cause. 

    "I'm the number one supporter [on] radio and television, that I know of, [of the] First Amendment and the Second Amendment," Hannity said during a May 4 broadcast of his television programme. "No one is a bigger defendant of the Second Amendment than yours truly."

    "This, with the militia look here, and these long guns, uh... No," he said. He described the "show of force" as "dangerous". 

    Protesters were initially held back from entering the Senate floor - which is off-limits to the public - by police, though they eventually made their way into the public gallery of the Senate. Some marched into the building with rifles slung across their chests, shouting at legislators and security guards in the building.

    The protest was the largest in the state since April 15, when Trump allies organised thousands of people for "Operation Gridlock", a demonstration that blocked the streets of Lansing to protest Whitmer's strict stay-at-home order. The protesters claimed it, along with other measures, are an overreach of the governor's powers.

    "Operation Gridlock" kicked off a round anti-lockdown protests, many organised by conservative or fringe groups, across the US. Along with political signs in support of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence's reelection, protesters at some of the demonstrations waved Confederate flags, which many view as a racist symbol.

    Whitmer, for her part, did not initially respond to the armed protest, but later told CNN "[s]ome of the outrageousness of what happened at our capitol depicted some of the worst racism and awful parts of our history in this country."

    Despite the furore, there are some in Michigan who remain opposed to banning guns from the state capitol building. 

    House Speaker Lee Chatfield told Michigan Information and Research Service on that he does not support such a ban because the building is the "people's house". Truscott said he does not think a ban on firearms will be approved, but said new safety measures are likely. 

    Trump tweeted support for the protesters, calling them "very good people". 

    Firearms are routinely carried into the Capitol, which has no metal detectors at its entrances, during annual Second Amendment demonstrations. Democrats have proposed banning guns in the Capitol, but they have had no luck as the minority party in both the state House and Senate since 2010. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies