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1,000 open-carry gun activists converge on Michigan Capitol lawn

MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo logo MLive - GrandRapids/Muskegon/Kalamazoo 9/17/2020 By Samuel Dodge, mlive.com
a person standing in front of a building: Open carry gun activist rally at Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020. © Nicole Hester/Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Open carry gun activist rally at Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020.

LANSING, MI - Two parents carried rifles while their daughter shouldered a BB gun. Others wore British Revolutionary War costumes to mock Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus-prevention policies. And some Black Detroiters were there advocating for more diversity in the gun rights movement.

Officers look out as open carry gun activist rally at Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020. © Nicole Hester/Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Officers look out as open carry gun activist rally at Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020.

They were among about 1,000 demonstrators from across Michigan gathered on the State Capitol lawn Thursday in Lansing to support open-carry gun rights and protest a recent push to ban guns from the Capitol building.

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While occasionally addressing other issues such as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home measures, speakers at the Sep. 17 rally focused on the rights of protesters, many of whom carrying pistols and rifles out in the open.

“Whether you decide to open carry or concealed carry, that is your choice. It is not my job to make that decision for you," said Tom Lambert, former president of Michigan Open Carry, to the crowd before pointing back to the Capitol building. “It is not their job to make that decision for you either.”

While the protest was planned weeks prior, the gun rights rally comes days after the Michigan State Capitol Commission voted down two proposals to impose weapons bans in the state Capitol building.

The six-member state panel voted down a proposal to completely ban firearms in the Capitol 2-4, and split 3-3 on a motion to ban open carry in the building. The panel is deliberating with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield to “try to find common ground,” said Commission Chair Gary Randall.

Open carry gun activist march from the Lansing Capitol to the Michigan Hall of Justice on Thursday Sep. 17, 2020. © Nicole Hester/Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Open carry gun activist march from the Lansing Capitol to the Michigan Hall of Justice on Thursday Sep. 17, 2020.

Firearms have long been allowed in and around the Michigan Capitol building, and members of the public are allowed to enter the building without being checked by security. That’s not the case in the U.S. Capitol and many other state Capitol buildings around the country.

A few Republican politicians spoke about the proposal, including Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte. He argued the Capitol Commission doesn’t have the authority to ban guns from the building.

“The Capitol Commission deals with the care and upkeep of the Capitol building, the grounds here that you see and upkeep of the statues,” he said. “But they don’t have the ability to set policy within the Capitol building itself.”

a person walking down a street next to a building: Open carry gun activist begin their march back to the  Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020 in Lansing. © Nicole Hester/Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Open carry gun activist begin their march back to the Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020 in Lansing.

Both Attorney General Dana Nessel and independent counsel retained by the commission found the panel does indeed have the authority, although some commissioners were hesitant to make a determination without some legislative input.

a man standing in front of a crowd: Members of the Proud Boys stand on the front lawn of the Capitol while open carry gun activist rally in Lansing on Thursday Sep. 17, 2020. © Nicole Hester/Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Members of the Proud Boys stand on the front lawn of the Capitol while open carry gun activist rally in Lansing on Thursday Sep. 17, 2020.

“It’s been four months since armed gunmen stood above elected officials while they worked,” Michigan Senate Democrats said via Twitter this week. “Legislators, staff, children & teachers shouldn’t have to fear guns in the Capitol.”

David “Dude” Dudenhoefer, Republican challenger for U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s 13th District seat, said while the optics of hundreds of rifled protesters in the Capitol building during an April 30 rally may not look good to some, it’s no reason to deny people their Second Amendment rights and right to self-defense.

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“Wherever you go, you have the right to defend yourself,” he said. “If there are places where they restrict that right, that’s a criminal empowerment zone.”

a book on a bed: Guns are displayed at one of the tables while open carry gun activist rally at Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020. © Nicole Hester/Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Guns are displayed at one of the tables while open carry gun activist rally at Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020.

He also pointed that no armed protester has discharged a shot in front or inside the Capitol building, comparing it to violence during police brutality protests in Detroit.

a man standing in front of a crowd: Open carry gun activist rally at Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020. © Nicole Hester/Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Open carry gun activist rally at Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020.

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After two hours of speeches, approximately 1,000 demonstrators marched around the Capitol grounds to the Michigan Hall of Justice. Organizers warned those carrying firearms were not allowed to bring their guns into the Hall of Justice due to a Michigan Supreme Court administrative order.

Instead, the throng gathered on the Hall of Justice steps and chanted “U-S-A" and “Four more years” for President Donald Trump. At one point, about two dozen members of the Proud Boys, a “western chauvinist” group that was recently involved in physical scuffles during a march in Kalamazoo, started chanting “F--- Antifa!”

a group of people in uniform: Open carry gun activist rally outside the Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020. © Nicole Hester/Nicole Hester/Mlive.com/mlive.com/TNS Open carry gun activist rally outside the Lansing Capitol Thursday Sep. 17, 2020.

Why the Proud Boys visited Kalamazoo

Members of the group declined to be interviewed. Other protesters didn’t want to be associated with the controversial group, such as Phil Robinson of Michigan Liberty Militia.

“We are here exercising our rights, nothing more,” Robinson said. “Some people seem to be here spinning different messages, but we don’t want that here.”

Robinson, a Berrien County man, and his group marched with Black Lives Matter protesters in Grand Rapids and Hastings in the wake of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. He stressed that gun rights are for people of every color and background.

“Everyone should be out here exercising their rights," he said. “Everybody! I encourage it.”

After the march to the Hall of Justice, demonstrators returned to the Capitol lawn before breaking down tents and heading home without incident.

Read more from MLive:

Nursing home debate gets heated with Michigan health director testifying at COVID-19 oversight hearing

AG Barr compares pandemic lockdown to slavery during Hillsdale College speech, takes aim at BLM

Biden campaign launches ‘virtual tour’ of Michigan businesses harmed by COVID-19

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