UPDATE: Commission can prohibit firearms at State Capitol

Published: May. 8, 2020 at 2:58 PM EDT
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Michigan Attorney Dana Nessel is letting the Michigan State Capitol Commission know they have the legal authority to prohibit firearms at the State Capitol.

Nessel sent a

to the commission Friday letting them know they can prohibit firearms if they chose to do so, saying "the authority is consistent with the current state of the law regarding firearms in public buildings and an informational letter sent to Speaker Chatfield in 2018," according to a press release from Nessel's office.

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

“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. 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.”

In her letter, Nessel said the commission has the legal authority to ensure the "safety of the visiting public, as well as those who carry out the People's work by prohibiting firearms within the Capitol building."

She reaffirmed this Friday, speaking with News 10's Kellan Buddy.

"They do have the ability, and moreover, I think an obligation," said Nessel. "The situation is a ticking time bomb. If the Capitol Commission or the legislature is unwilling to act,... I believe they'll have blood on their hands."

Nessel said Friday's letter is similar to

John Truscott, the Vice Chair of the commission, also spoke with News 10 Friday. He thinks the Historic Site Act of 2013, which formed the commission, did not give them the authority to rule over state legislatures.

"It gave us a responsibility to maintain the building,... manage the budget, manage the staff, to take care of the physical infrastructure of the grounds and the building itself," said Truscott. "It didn't allow us the authority to go beyond what is allowed in state law."

Truscott added that the letter does not contain a legal opinion, which would carry the weight of state law. He thinks a ban should be something settled by state lawmakers.

"This is not an attorney general's opinion that we can rely on for our authority," said Truscott.

The attorney general said that regulation of firearms usually stems from state statute, however, the prohibition of firearms from public spaces does not need to originate from the Legislature.

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

The topic comes after several protesters have brought firearms to the Capitol, protesting Governor Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home order.

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