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Attorney general says commission can ban guns from Capitol

May 8, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this April 30, 2020, file photo, a protester carries his rifle at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Friday, May 8, 2020, that a commission overseeing the state Capitol can legally ban guns from the building, contradicting panel leaders' contention that only the Legislature can do so. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
FILE - In this April 30, 2020, file photo, a protester carries his rifle at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Friday, May 8, 2020, that a commission overseeing the state Capitol can legally ban guns from the building, contradicting panel leaders' contention that only the Legislature can do so. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
FILE - In this April 30, 2020, file photo, a protester carries his rifle at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Friday, May 8, 2020, that a commission overseeing the state Capitol can legally ban guns from the building, contradicting panel leaders' contention that only the Legislature can do so. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A commission overseeing Michigan’s Capitol can legally ban guns from the building, state Attorney General Dana Nessel said Friday, contradicting panel leaders’ contention that only the Legislature can do so.

Nessel, a Democrat, wrote a letter to the State Capitol Commission, which operates, manages, maintains and restores the building and its grounds. Its six members will meet Monday to discuss why firearms are allowed and what, if anything, should be done after some demonstrators armed with assault rifles entered the building last week to protest Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions and to pressure lawmakers.

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The commission’s attorney advised the panel that it has no jurisdiction to prohibit weapons, John Truscott, the commission’s vice chairman and spokesman, said this week. Only the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, can institute a ban by enacting a bill, he said.

But Nessel said the commission is similar to the state Supreme Court, which has prohibited weapons in courtrooms. The panel is not constrained from limiting firearms at facilities under its exclusive control, she wrote, noting it has written rules and procedures regarding gatherings and demonstrations.

The only limitation on the commission’s authority relates to internal decisions by the House or Senate on allocating offices and parking spots, she said.

“The concept of ‘open carry’ in Michigan law does not provide the unfettered right to bring firearms into any public space,” Nessel said. She said allowing people to take high-capacity, semi-automatic assault weapons into the legislative galleries during controversial debates is an “absurdly dangerous combination.”

Truscott said the commission will talk about the letter, but “our reading and that of our legal counsel and other lawyers around town that we’ve had informal conversations with is still that we do not have jurisdiction.”

House Democrats formally urged the panel to quickly prohibit guns within the Capitol, calling it long overdue.

“It is your responsibility to ensure that legislators, staff and the general public are safe within the walls of our statehouse,” House Minority Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills and Rep. Sarah Anthony of Lansing wrote on behalf of the caucus. “Failing to address the threat of armed intimidation in the Capitol is shirking that all-important responsibility.”

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Several Senate Democrats also called for a gun ban inside the Capitol.

It is not unusual to see people with guns inside and outside the Capitol during pro-Second Amendment rallies.

A senator reported last week that some armed men in the gallery shouted down at senators during a debate on extending the governor’s emergency declaration. Others with rifles were among a larger crowd that chanted “let us in” outside the House chamber, which was closed to the public to make room for representatives to socially distance.

Michigan law does not prohibit people from openly carrying a gun in public, except in places like courts and airports. They can carry a concealed pistol with a permit unless in schools, day care centers and other specified places.

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