On an afternoon when gun-toting Michiganders descended on Lansing for “Open Carry” day, a pair of Michigan lawmakers introduced legislation that would flip the script on the current rules by banning guns, but not signs in the state Capitol.
“I was watching them out my office window and they were marching around the Capitol with signs and guns. And if they entered the Capitol, they would have to leave their sign outside ,” but not their firearms, said state Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, one of the sponsors of the legislation. “So there’s a disparity in that we favor the second Amendment over the First Amendment.”
The bills would ban guns from state buildings -- carried openly or concealed -- and would reverse the ban on bringing signs into the Capitol, which were prohibited after the contentious protests that accompanied the right-to-work votes in 2012. The right-to-work law makes it illegal to require payment of union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The legislation produced fierce protests at the state Capitol from thousands of union members and others.
Packing revolvers, long guns and semi-automatic rifles and handguns, advocates for laws that allow gun owners to carry their weapons openly anywhere they choose, gathered at the Capitol to hear from supportive lawmakers and to urge the Legislature to forego more restrictive gun laws.
“Stronger gun laws are not going to stop violent crime. If you take all of our guns away, we won’t be able to protect ourselves and the criminals will still have guns,” said Sandi Beahan, a Grand Rapids resident and the southwest regional director of Michigan Open Carry, which advocates for gun rights. “All of the gun free zones, we want to do away with those. I call those criminal empowerment zones.”
Michigan has had a checkered history with gun laws. State Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, is working on a bill that would close the loophole that allows gun owners to openly carry their weapons in gun free zones, like churches and schools. The bill also would allow people with concealed weapons permits and “much, much more extensive training,” to carry a concealed weapon in the gun free zones.
A similar bill sponsored by Green was vetoed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2012 in the days immediately following the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and six staff members before killing himself on Dec. 14. That bill allowed for concealed weapons to be carried in gun free zones, but not openly carried. The veto created the loophole which has caused havoc in some schools when gun enthusiasts have entered their buildings openly carrying weapons, causing lockdowns and police responses.
There have been a couple dozen bills either strengthening or loosening gun regulations introduced in the past 18 months, but not many have gotten a hearing. And it’s unlikely, even with the display of weapons Wednesday, that the current gun bills will go anywhere -- especially in an election year.
“There’s still a lot of discussion about what we could move,” said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, adding the top priorities for the Senate before summer break is approving the budget, energy policy and a fix for the Detroit Public Schools. “There is some compromise language that the NRA (National Rifle Association) is considering and shopping around.”
In the House, there also are other priorities, said state Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, who as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has close to a dozen gun-related bills awaiting a hearing.
“There are so many other bills that we really want to get some action on,” he said. “There are so many gun bills that we really have to look at them very closely. And what happens in the Senate could change the dynamic for us.”
Moss said he’s hoping to get some support for the bill that would allow people to once again bring signs into the Capitol. But the ban on guns in state buildings is highly unlikely to see any action.
“I always hear form gun rights advocates that it’s important to have guns in public places because a good person with a gun can is needed to combat the bad person with the gun,” he said. “The reality is the Michigan State Police are already here. I don’t think everybody in this place needs to be carrying a gun.”
For Beahan, the two, single-action revolvers strapped to her legs -- “cowboy style,” she called them -- and the belt of .45 Colt ammo she had wrapped around her waist were her legal and essential accessories of choice.
“We’re trying to keep our rights from being trampled into the ground.”