Democrats: Ban guns, allow signs in Michigan Capitol

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
About 150 gun owners gathered on the lawn of the state Capitol on Wednesday for the annual Second Amendment March, celebrating their legal right to carry guns in the open in Michigan.

Lansing — Two state House Democrats on Wednesday announced legislation seeking to ban firearms in state government buildings but allow political signs in those places.

The proposal would reverse longstanding rules at the Michigan Capitol, where signs are banned but guns are allowed.

The firearm bill is unlikely to advance in the Republican-led Legislature and did not go over well with gun-rights activists and open-carry advocates who were gathered at the building for an annual Second Amendment march.

But Democratic state Reps. Jeremy Moss of Southfield and Robert Wittenberg of Oak Park say their legislation would promote First Amendment rights while creating a safer environment in government buildings.

“The only way you can get a sign into the Capitol is if it’s painted on the side of a gun, and I don’t think that makes much sense,” Moss said.

“I’ve listened to the arguments of gun-right activists and advocates who say if something should happen, the only way to take out a bad person is a good person with a gun. If that’s the case, we have Michigan State Police more or less stationed throughout the Capitol. We have sergeants in arms. We’re adequately protected should there be an emergency situation.”

Wittenberg called the legislation a “common-sense” proposal that would align the state with the federal government, which bans firearms in any federally owned buildings.

He said he thinks all guns, whether concealed or openly carried, should be banned from the state Capitol beyond use by law enforcement officers and security.

“In essence, you’d have to go through a metal detector to get in,” Wittenberg said.

He acknowledged the gun bill will face an uphill battle in Lansing but said at least one Republican had signed on to the proposal to allow signs.

The Capitol sign ban was adopted years ago by the Michigan State Capitol Commission, said Commissioner John Truscott. The rule has not been recently reviewed but is a distinct issue from the constitutional right to carry firearms, he said.

Truscott noted that signs, especially those carried on sticks, could cause damage to the historic building.

“Some of the paint and some of the relief paint is fairly delicate, and signs and sticks and things banging against it could chip it up, and it’s very expensive to replace. It’s for the safety of the building and the safety of the people.”

Moss and Wittenberg announced their legislation the same day hundreds of gun owners, many of them with firearms holstered on their hips or strapped to their backs, rallied outside the Capitol. A handful were seen walking through the building, which regularly hosts school field trips and other events.

“My kids are exposed to firearms every single day, and they’re not afraid or terrified,” said Kelly Bird of Kentwood, who wore a gun on his chest. “Last year here at open carry day, the kids weren’t scared of me. They were actually very intrigued by me. They all had questions and wanted to shake my hand.”

Dan Griffin, a member of the Michigan Open Carry group, said he does not personally have a problem with allowing signs in the Capitol but thinks it would be a mistake to ban guns.

“I don’t think it’ll fly,” he said. “Many legislators carry guns themselves, and they’re not going to be hypocritical by stopping citizens from carrying guns when they do.”

The Legislature currently is grappling with bills seeking to address open-carry in schools, which is legal but has caused controversy around the state. One proposal would ban open-carry but allow concealed carry in schools instead.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said he hopes to resolve that debate by summer. But he scoffed at the Democratic proposal to limit guns in the Capitol

“Good luck with that,” he said with a smile.