Now, Democratic legislators in Michigan are redoubling their attempts to prevent visitors from carrying firearms into the Capitol. They are using a somewhat novel argument about workplace safety, saying that the presence of firearms in the building constitutes a workplace safety hazard.
House Minority Leader Christine Greig this week wrote a letter to her Republican counterpart, Speaker Lee Chatfield, pleading with him to direct building authorities to prevent visitors from bringing guns into the building, saying guns pose a workplace hazard.
The issue comes on the heels of the recently disclosed plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), which has raised concerns about the growing threat of domestic terrorism.
Greig says she plans to file a complaint with the state’s occupational health agency if Chatfield fails to act.
“It’s very threatening when you walk around your workplace and see people with assault rifles,” Greig said in an interview. “Any other workplace would be addressing this, and it would be investigated and dealt with. But we are not afforded that as members of the House. It needs to change.”
Greig says she’s heard complaints about the issue from a majority of the 52 Democrats in the chamber — particularly her colleagues of color, she said.
Democrats in the state Senate feel similarly, Santana said, saying the long-standing issue of guns in the Capitol reached a boiling point this year amid the militia-driven protests over restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has been very nerve shaking, if you will,” she said. “I’m always on pins and needles, and always looking in the gallery to see who’s there.”
The FBI’s announcement about arrests last week in the plot to kidnap Whitmer came after months of militia activity in Michigan and elsewhere protesting state virus restrictions. The protest on April 30 drew wide attention after hundreds of protesters stormed into the Capitol, some heavily armed and chanting “Let us in!” outside the House chamber.
Michigan is not alone in allowing visitors to carry guns in its Capitol. It is one of at least a handful of states that permit gun-carrying in some fashion at the legislature.
So far, a Michigan panel charged with setting those rules has refused to change the policy in response to demands from Democrats, gun control advocates, and other critics who say they don’t understand why guns are allowed in the building, while political signage is not.
The Michigan Capitol Commission, a six-member board with four members appointed by Republicans, rejected two proposals that would have limited guns inside the Capitol in September but said the discussion would continue. The commission did not respond to a request for comment.
Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesman for Chatfield, called the letter from Greig a “partisan press stunt.”
“We all know MIOSHA can’t trump the constitution,” D’Assandro said in a statement, referring to the Michigan workplace safety agency. “The House is doing important work this week to keep Michigan safe and help improve the state’s response to the pandemic. The Legislature won’t be distracted from that.”
Michigan’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not respond to a request for comment about whether it had received complaints about workplace safety issues at the Capitol.
Mitchell Doucette is a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University who has studied the connection between gun laws and workplace violence.
He and his co-authors’ research found that states that make firearm-carrying easier saw higher levels of workplace gun homicides.
“Anytime you have greater prevalence of firearms, it presents as a risk factor for future violence,” he said.
Santana said Republicans had acknowledged that gun-carrying was unsafe when they canceled the legislative session on “Open Carry” day this year, a day when the public has been invited to enter the Capitol armed.
“We have teachers and union workers coming into the Capitol and they can’t carry a sign,” Greig said. “It’s so frustrating.”
Greig is also asking Republicans to extend the mask mandate to House and Senate members, not just staffers. One senator and four House members have had confirmed coronavirus infections, she said, and one, Isaac Robinson, died of the disease in March.