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AG Nessel issues formal opinion regarding guns at the State Capitol

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Posted at 10:21 AM, May 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-11 10:21:38-04

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has issued a formal opinion regarding the presence of guns at the State Capitol.

Nessel's formal opinion concludes the Michigan State Capitol has the "legal authority to prohibit firearms in the Capitol building," according to a news release from her office.

After relying on past court decisions and current state laws, AG Nessel determined the commission can regulate firearms within the areas under its control, which includes the inside of the State Capitol building.

“I firmly believe in the right to protest, the right to demonstrate, and the right to loudly and strongly object to those causes that move us,” Nessel said. “These rights are so fundamental to our democracy that they are enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution. But it is also important to remember that the right to protest does not encompass the right to violence, or the right to harm those individuals with whom you disagree.”

The attorney general sent a letter to the commission last week, notifying the commission it had the authority to ban firearms at the Capitol, however, some commissioners publically dismissed the letter, saying it was not a formal opinion, according to Nessel's office.

The formal opinion follows a request made by Representative Christine Greig, the House Democratic leader who called for action, Nessel's office said.

“Now is not the time for gamesmanship, partisan politics, or equivocation,” Greig wrote. “Now is the time to take urgent action to protect public safety and the legislative process from those who would do violence to both.”

In her response to Greig, Nessel said she was "deeply troubled by images of crowds flooding the Capitol, armed with assault rifles while legislators debated and deliberated the critical issues of the day."

“Members of our Legislature should not have to wear bulletproof vests or be escorted by armed guards in order to serve the People of this State,” Nessel said.

Attorney General Nessel said the regulation of firearms generally stems from state statute, but the prohibition of firearms from public spaces does not need to originate from the Legislature.

“In Michigan, the concept of ‘open carry’ does not provide the unfettered right to bring firearms into any public space,” Nessel wrote in her opinion. “Numerous restrictions already exist on openly carrying firearms in public places.

For example, Nessel said the Michigan Supreme Court adopted an administrative order that bars firearms from any courtroom, office or other space used for official court business or by judicial employees without prior approval, saying the order applies to open carry of firearms too.

Nessel's office said the Supreme Court also ruled that state law, which preempts regulations by local units of government, doesn't apply to school districts indicating a non-local unit of government such as a school district, the Supreme Court, or the Michigan State Capitol Commission, "may lawfully impose regulations that impact firearms."

"With this opinion, it is my fervent hope that the Commission acts responsibly and takes meaningful steps to protect the safety of those at our State Capitol because the wheels of democracy cannot freely turn under the threat of violence,” stated Nessel.

The topic of guns at the State Capitol comes after several armed individuals stormed the Capitol building, protesting Governor Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home order.

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