(WWJ) As Michigan State Police and legislators prepare to face armed demonstrators at the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey says he wants anyone seen brandishing a firearm to be arrested.
A group demanding an end to restrictions in Michigan due to COVID-19 plans to hold another protest Thursday in Lansing.
Shirkey, a Republican from Clarklake, says he knows people with permits can bring guns into the Capitol building, but if the weapons are used to intimidate or threaten, law enforcement should not hesitate to act.
Under state law, brandishing a weapon is described as pointing, waving about or displaying "in a threatening manner with the intent to induce fear in another person."
Shirkey said those who would brandish a gun in the Capitol should be "properly handcuffed, taken in (and) fingerprinted." He added that officials shouldn't stand "cowardly" behind the Capitol Commission, which on Monday declined to ban firearms in the Capitol, instead voted to form a special committee to "study the issue."
Michigan State Police Col. Joe Gasper on Wednesday reminded residents that laws will be enforced at these rallies.
“We’re asking the public to partner with us to ensure the Capitol remains a safe forum for everyone,” said Gasper, in a statement. “While our desire is to interfere as little as possible in demonstrations, we will not allow unlawful, threatening or intimidating behavior. Based on safety concerns expressed following previous demonstrations, attendees can expect to see an increased MSP presence on Thursday.”
Under Michigan law possession of an openly carried firearm coupled with an intention to create fear in another person could subject an individual to criminal prosecution for brandishing a firearm, MSP said, in a joint news release with the Attorney General's Office. Additionally, if a person refuses to obey a lawful directive from a law enforcement officer, that person could be subjected to criminal prosecution for resisting and obstructing, the release continues.
During recent events at the Capitol, some residents carried firearms in protest of Michigan’s "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order, leading some legislators and other employees working at the Capitol to express that they were concerned for their wellbeing.
MSP Lt. Brian Oleksyk said he's been getting a lot of questions about what people should expect to see at Thursday's demonstration, and how police will be handling things.
One thing to keep in mind, he said, was that because the State Legislature was not going to be in session on Thursday, the Capitol building would not be open to the public. He also said the hours for events on the Capitol grounds, as always, are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. — and anything outside of that may be considered tresspassing.
Safety for all, Oleksyk stressed, is the primary goal.
"You're gonna see a lot of police presence," Oleksyk said. "You're gonna see troopers; we're gonna be walking around on the grounds. You're gonna see some of us on bicycles; if you're lucky enough, you may even see a K9 or two."
"You're are going to see a lot of our vehicles," he said. "One might be a mobile command center. We also might have a couple of different vehicles that will be here to help us create the safe envoronment which we want, but we can't do it without you."
For those who choose to attend the protest, Oleksyk said police are asking that everyone adhere to social distancing guidelines, including standing six feet apart from others, and wearing a mask or other face covering.
Nessel said authorities are hopeful that the voices of those who wish to be heard can exercise their rights in safety and that legislators and their staff can do their important work without being threatened. Protestors unable to adhere to the rule of law and who behave in a threatening and unlawful manner can expect to be held accountable in our courts," she said.
“We are in unprecedented times which have called for significant measures to protect the health and safety of Michigan residents. I vehemently support the First Amendment right to protest government actions at the Capitol or elsewhere around the state; however any such activity must be done in a manner that is safe and lawful,” Nessel said. “The presence of heavily armed protestors at the Capitol unnecessarily creates a powder keg dynamic that is dangerous to protestors, law enforcement and public servants reporting to work at the Capitol. My office will work in coordination with local authorities and the Michigan State Police to uphold our commitment to public safety."
The protests come as lawmakers on both side of the aisle, as well as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have denounced threats of violence over Whitmer's restrictions.
Shirkey said he condemns the behavior and tactics of "so-called protestors who used intimidation and the threat of physical harm to stir up fear and feed rancor," adding, "They do not represent the Senate Republicans. At best, those so-called protestors are a bunch of jackasses."
In an interview with WWJ Newsrsdio 950 this week, Whitmer said she would support a ban on guns in the Capitol, although it's not up to her. The governor said she knows there were a lot of legislators who felt intimidated by demonstators with guns in the Capitol last month.
Thursday's protest is organized by the group Michigan United for Liberty, which said it has discouraged violence and have not encouraged anyone to bring a firearm; one of the co-founders saying that the group doesn't want to be associated with that. In a Facebook post, the group wrote: "We are here to give a voice to the voiceless. The media is here to run a smear campaign."
Over the weekend, Facebook removed the group after it was reported that members were encouraging violence and flouting the governor’s social-distancing orders. Facebook said the group violated the company’s policy against inciting violence.
A counter protest was also planned for Thursday, according to a Facebook event page called "Stand Up to Rightwing Extremists and White Supremacy."
The page said "there is potential for armed conflict" and that an organization planned to provide "armed security for our elected representatives."
However, and update on the page now states that the event has been canceled: "Do to there being no request for protection from state reps at this time it appears Michael Lynn Jr.’s group will not be providing armed escort...Organizers now feel for everyone’s safety with COVID-19 and armed extremists it is better to cancel the event. I’m grateful that ya’ll answered the call."