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Heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition

Protests Spark Gun Debate in Lansing. But Whose Job Is It to Change Policy?

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Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

After gun-wielding protesters entered Michigan’s State Capitol and violent threats were made against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, some are questioning whether firearms have a place in the building.

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Scott Browerman was one of two hundred protesters outside the empty Capitol building last week, standing in the rain. He came packing. 

He says he’s not a threat to anybody, but the recent incident where gun-wielding protestors entered the Capitol went too far.

They don’t need to threaten people,” Browerman says. ”I carry an AR-15, I have a pistol on my hip. My wife has an AR-15 she carries a pistol on her hip. We’re not a threat to nobody.”


Click on the player above to hear WKAR’s Abigail Censky report on guns in Michigan’s Capitol.


Nothing about carrying a weapon into the Michigan state capitol is illegal. For now. But after recent protests, legislators and the Capitol Commission are considering changing that. 

Two weeks ago when armed protesters stood above state lawmakers and chanted outside of the House Chamber, State Representative Sarah Anthony, says she was unnerved.

The Capitol Commission “didn’t just do anything in four days, the legislature hasn’t done anything in four decades.” — Bill Kandler, Commissioner

Video footage of protestors in the Michigan Capitol.Screen Grab
Screen Grab

Video footage of protestors in the Michigan Capitol.

That is not the job I signed up for,” Anthony says. ”I shouldn’t have to worry about whether there will be gunfire or just violence that is inflicted upon me, or my colleagues, or school children in the state capitol.”

The Democrat from Lansing had to walk to the capitol through a crowd of protesters, some holding Nazi symbols, nooses and guns. Afterwards, one of her constituents offered her an armed escort.

The next time she walked in she was flanked by brown and black men and women carrying semiautomatic weapons. It drew national attention.

Michael Lynn III, is one of the people who escorted Anthony last week. He says it was to send a message that intimidating lawmakers at work with weapons isn’t acceptable.

If I’m playing loud music and someone’s on their balcony and they hear it, I’m in my space I can do that,” Lynn says. ”But if I’m playing the loud music and that loud music says I want to kill my neighbor, then you know, they rightfully are in a state of discomfort that it should be stopped.”

Commission Votes to Study Gun Ban

Now, Anthony is calling for a gun ban at the capitol.

She wrote a letter to the Michigan Capitol Commission requesting the ban, the group in charge of maintaining the well-being of the historic building.

Protestors have “shown up on the capitol lawn and in the building. But, they have done so without threatening the safety of others.” — Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey

Michigan's House of Representatives in 2018.Jake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

Michigan’s House of Representatives in 2018.

It’s totally inappropriate for a democratically elected constitutional body to be deliberating public policy with people peering down at them with guns, totally inappropriate,” says Bill Kandler, one of the commissioners. 

The Capitol Commission met after receiving Anthony’s letter. Shortly before the meeting Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a formal legal opinion saying the commission had the authority to make the ban.

But, the commission wasn’t quite so sure. They voted unanimously to study if they had the ability to ban guns.

In the meeting there were a lot of questions about why the legislature wouldn’t pass a law banning weapons. Kandler says making a quick decision could open them up to a lawsuit.

If we made policy now, we’d be shooting in the dark, and it would probably be more of a problem than not doing anything,” Kandler says. ”We didn’t just do anything in four days, the legislature hasn’t done anything in four decades.”

Violent Threats

As organizers planned for a third protest, violent threats were made in several Facebook groups against Whitmer.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey condemned the threats, calling them despicable and the people who made them, thugs.

But, he said the protesters who stood over Senators weren’t part of that group.

And they’ve even shown up on the capitol lawn and in the building to protest the actions of government,” Shirkey says. ”But, they have done so without threatening the safety of others.”

No changes were made to the policy before last week’s protest. The Michigan Capitol Commission plans to meet again, and Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills to ban weapons at the capitol.

But, for now, if you want to carry in a pistol or an AR-15 to the capitol building, nothing’s stopping you.

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Abigail Censky, Politics & Government Reporter, WKAR

Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR.

ACensky@wkar.org Follow @AbigailCensky

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