ELPS School Board Steps into National Political Debate on Firearms

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

An armed protester at the Michigan State Capitol Building on April 15, 2020.

At last night’s East Lansing School Board meeting, Treasurer Kath Edsall introduced a resolution calling on the Michigan State Capitol Commission to ban both concealed and open-carry firearms in the state Capitol in Lansing, except for designated security personnel.

The resolution, which passed unanimously, did not appear on the School Board’s published agenda. But based on the discussion, the seven School Board members had seen a draft version in advance of the meeting.

The East Lansing School Board has been criticized in the past for weighing in on issues seen as tangential to their mission. But in her discussion of the drafted resolution, Edsall noted that, in addition to serving as a hot spot of local and national protest, the Michigan Capitol is a historic landmark that welcomes thousands of school children on class trips each year.

The resolution declared that “the presence of guns within the Capitol building, although legally obtained and carried, threatens the emotional, physical and mental health and safety of our students, teachers and chaperones.”

Weapons are allowed inside the Michigan Capitol and some other state capitols in the U.S. Signs, however, are prohibited in the Lansing building under the logic that signs, including those mounted on sticks, could harm people.

Edsall’s resolution comes in response to armed protests against Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders, protests held at the Capitol on April 15 and again on April 30. At the last event, protestors armed with semiautomatic rifles entered the Capitol building. Some entered the Senate gallery while others chanted “Let us in!” when Michigan State Police formed a line blocking their entry.

Michigan State Police meet protesters in Lansing on April 15, 2020 (photo for ELi by Gary Caldwell).

Outside the Capitol, several held signs comparing Whitmer to Adolf Hitler. At least one sign read, “Tyrants get the noose.”

When the Board discussed this late-addition action item, Edsall explained how the debate on firearms in the Capitol was unfolding in Lansing. She said that the Capitol Commission, which is charged with preserving the building and organizing the building’s events, met on Monday to discuss the issue and that the six-person Commission formed a four-person committee to discuss regulating firearms within the Capitol.

Edsall believes that the Commission needs to hear from concerned citizens as they deliberate what to do.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released a formal legal opinion on Monday, stating that the Commission did have legal grounds to restrict firearms in the Capitol. Some had argued that the Commission, which is appointed by the legislature and not elected, did not have the authority to do so.

ELPS Board Secretary Chris Martin suggested that the resolution also be sent to the state legislature since the Commission might ultimately defer to them.

Edsall was open to Martin’s idea, but said it made sense to only address the Commission for the time being. If the issue is eventually taken up by the legislature, Edsall said, another resolution can be brought forth.

Edsall indicated plans to send the unanimously-approved resolution to Nessel, Governor Whitmer (whose children attend ELPS), State Representative Julie Brixie, and State Senator Curtis Hertel, Jr.

The protest at the Capitol building on April 15, 2020 (photo by Gary Caldwell for ELi).

As recently as yesterday afternoon, Whitmer commented on the protests and the presence of firearms at the state capitol. While she said she supports the First Amendment right to free speech and assembly, she argued that the safety of everyone must be considered. She decried what she described as racist rhetoric and symbols used by protestors.

The Michigan Capitol Commission’s meeting yesterday, held via Zoom, abruptly ended when the Commission began to receive violent and racist messages, according to the Associated Press.

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