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Recent Whitmer kidnapping plot renews calls to ban firearms in Michigan Capitol

October 22, 2020
<p>Lansing Capitol building on Sept. 19, 2019. </p>

Lansing Capitol building on Sept. 19, 2019.

Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Calls to ban weapons in the Michigan Capitol building were renewed following the alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other elected officials. 

The drive to ban firearms in the building was incited back in April, when armed protesters stormed the Capitol in response to the governor’s strict lockdown measures during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Michigan Capitol Commission, the body that has the authority to ban guns in the building, decided in a September vote to not implement a ban. 

Joan Bauer, one of the six commissioners, said she is disappointed the commission did not vote to ban weapons in the building, especially after the kidnapping revelations. 

“Since April, I have advocated for a ban on weapons in the Capitol and made a motion (which failed) at our September meeting,” Bauer said in an email. “The recent kidnapping revelations underscore the need to take such action immediately.”

A total of 14 men have been arrested so far for their alleged involvement in the plan to kidnap the governor and overthrow the state government. 

Six of the suspects were charged in federal court, whereas the other eight were charged with state crimes for their role in the plot. 

“Among the many other heinous plans they were pursuing, the accused individuals were even toying with the possibility of storming the Capitol building and taking hostages at gun point,” Rep. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing said in an email. “It is the job of the Capitol Commission to protect and preserve our beautiful state Capitol — yet when it comes time to protect the people inside the building, they have done nothing but stall.”

Anthony is at the forefront of the state legislators who have called for tighter gun restrictions in the Capitol following the armed protests in and around the building in April and May. 

“I have received harsh criticism for my vocal efforts to ban weapons in the Capitol — claims that my colleagues and I are overreacting or playing partisan games,” Anthony said. “Now it has come out that those individuals arrested for plotting against the governor were some of the very same men who brandished automatic weapons and tactical gear during protests over the Stay Home, Stay Safe order.”

Anthony had to walk through the crowd of racist symbols and armed protesters — some of whom were arrested in the plot to kidnap the governor — to get to the congressional chambers during the protest. 

She said in the email the kidnapping plot has reinforced the need for a ban of firearms in the Capitol. 

“If anything, the unfolding investigation has further shown the urgency behind implementing protections for legislators, legislative staff, public protestors, and the thousands of Michiganders who visit the Capitol every year,” Anthony said.  

Bauer echoed Anthony’s concerns, stressing the importance of protecting everyone who enters the Capitol. 

“The Legislature could and should ban firearms in the Capitol but they have not done so,” Bauer said. “Therefore, I feel strongly that it is the Michigan Capitol Commission’s moral responsibility to protect the safety of the thousands of visitors, school children, staff and legislators by banning weapons in the Capitol.”

Following calls like Anthony’s to ban guns in the Capitol, members of the Commission determined that it had the authority to ban guns from the building in June. 

The Commission refrained from making a decision on the matter until September, when it ultimately rejected a ban. 

While the Commission’s authority only extends to the public area of the Capitol — not congressional or gubernatorial chambers — Commissioner Kerry Chartkoff, who voted to ban firearms in the building, said the ban would restrict guns from entering those areas.

“Policies for the areas of the Capitol historically occupied by the House, Senate, and Governor are set by those bodies,” Chartkoff said. “However, accessing those areas means passing through the public areas of the Capitol, so a ban on the public areas essentially bans ... guns entirely.”

Chartkoff said the recent kidnapping plot reaffirmed her position for banning firearms. 

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