Metal detectors, software eyed to help make Michigan Capitol gun-free zone

Metal detectors might become the latest feature at the state Capitol as members of the Michigan State Capitol Commission continue in their effort to make the building a gun-free zone.

Commissioners, responsible for managing the statehouse, voted unanimously late last week to solicit bids for metal and weapon detectors for the Capitol’s ground floor entrances late last week.

Four areas – the main east entrance, the Heritage Hall entrance, and two entrances accessible via swipe cards by legislative staff – would see pass-through weapon detection towers, scanning for not just standard issue guns but 3-D printed weapons as well.

At the final entrance, used by maintenance and vendors such as caterers, would be a metal detector.

The commission also is seeking bids for software for digital security cameras to detect if people possess firearms while alerting security in the process.

Its expected the Department of State Police will post job listings for 10 troopers to provide additional Capitol security as the House and Senate do the same.

“I really am not happy we have to do this … it’s just the high prevalence of violence, but political violence, especially, around the country that makes it obvious we have to do something to try and protect people,” Commission Chair Bill Kandler told MLive.

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The vote on April 28 to move forward on metal detectors, new software and the like comes after another unanimous commission decision in February, when members first began moving on a total firearm ban on Capitol grounds.

“We know there’s no perfect solution of trying to come up with this end, (but) to increase our security and decrease our risk to outside events or incidents is our goal,” Rob Blackshaw, executive director of the Michigan State Capitol Commission, said at the time.

Commissioners previously signed off on a form of an open carry firearm ban in 2021. This pertained to “the public areas inside the Michigan State Capitol Building.”

That came after an April 2020 rally where armed individuals – some of whom were later charged in a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer – entered the Capitol and watched session from the third floor balcony to the dismay of several sitting lawmakers.

The same year, an opinion issued by Attorney General Dana Nessel indicated the commission would be within its rights to forbid guns on the Capitol grounds for the protection of those both inside and outside the statehouse.

Kandler said that opinion somewhat came as a surprise to the commission, as they had long been involved in the restoration and preservation of the building, but said members otherwise felt it was their responsibility to “make the Capitol safer.”

Under the current partial ban, public areas within the Capitol are defined as “the rotunda and its galleries” along with the main corridors, grand staircases and ground floor entrances.

There is an exception to the rule, as firearms held by certain individuals are still permitted on Capitol grounds.

These include:

  • Michigan State Police and Capitol security officers;
  • House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms;
  • Police licensed by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, and;
  • People with a valid Concealed Pistol License from any state, so long as they are carrying a concealed weapon in compliance with Michigan CPL regulations.

“We have a lot of school children come through the Capitol building every year. … We’d like to be able to tell parents that if the kids come to visit the Capitol building, it’d be as safe here as it would be your own school building,” Kandler said.

The firearm ban is expected to take effect upon the installing the new metal detectors, magnetometers and software. Commissioners, however, are still mulling whether the ban would affect just the inside of the Capitol or should extend to the grounds of the building as well.

How much this could cost is currently not known, though an executive budget recommendation from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has set aside $5 million for Capitol security upgrades.

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