Gun legislation enters the arena in Lansing with first hearing on firearm bans at polling places

Two weeks after a mass shooting in nearby East Lansing spurred a new round of calls to action, Lansing will see the first series of gun safety-related bills in the legislature when they go to committee Tuesday. 

The Michigan House Elections committee heard testimony about banning weapons at polling places and election drop boxes. HB 4127 and HB 4128 would ban firearms within 100 feet of a polling entrance on election day or possess a firearm where absentee ballots are being counted.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and election clerks support the bills, as does Voters Not Politicians, which lobbies on behalf of save and fair election laws. 

"If somebody is standing next to a ballot box in full body armor and an AR-15 or another weapon, I think there is an implication of intimidation just by being there," said State Rep. Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City). 

But the pro-gun lobby was quick to assert that the mere presence of somebody with a gun is not intimidation unless there is a threat to intimidate.

Second Amendment advocate Tom Lambert of the Open Carry Group spoke to the State House elections committee.

"The number one thing we didn't hear - was a single example of how a firearm was used to do any of this, not one single example, let alone how an existing law would already handle that with greater punishments than the ones you proposed today," Lambert said.

Gun advocacy groups like the Great Lakes Gun Rights oppose the bills, calling them "a solution in search of a problem" and "will undoubtedly lead to voter suppression of gun-owning Michiganders."  

While Democrats have long promised reform on gun safety laws, this session in the legislature represents their first real chance at enacting those changes. Both chambers are in Democratic control.

Yet to be scheduled is the 12 bills introduced in the Michigan state Senate, which covers background checks, red flag laws, and safe storage laws. It was first referred to the Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety.

The creation of gun free zones around voting drop boxes 40 days before an election, is just one of almost a dozen so-called gun safety proposals now in the mix, to be debated.

"They are dangerous and will lead to otherwise law-abiding citizens ending up in jail, for accidentally walking through one of these countless gun-free zones," said Brenen Boudreau.

The sponsor of the proposals reports one out of six clerks reports being threatened and 77% believe the threats are on the rise.

And on Monday, the Michigan Capitol Commission moved toward banning firearms at the capital building. 

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A meeting Monday included a resolution introduced by the executive director that called for the ban - something the administrative body could vote on in the next few months. Currently, open carry of firearms is not allowed on capital grounds, but concealed carry is still allowed. 

The policy is being reviewed after armed protesters entered the state capital amid rallies against Covid lockdown measures. 

It's not just lawmakers that are making more noise about gun laws. After three people died and five others were sent to the emergency room during a shooting rampage on Michigan State University's campus earlier in February, students have rallied in Lansing, demanding change. 

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They shared the space with other education advocacy groups.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who did not attend the hearing, claimed to the committee that after the last election, she was allegedly confronted outside her home by a 6-foot, three-inch, 250-pound man who "threatened" her,

"(He said) 'I've been waiting for you at work. I decided to come to your house. Why did you cheat and why did you allow Trump to lose. You are going to pay dearly for your actions in this election,'" she alleged. "Mind you, he was approaching me in a threatening manner. My only recourse was I told him I have Covid and 'I will spit on you.'"