Wednesday’s shocking, shameful invasion of the U.S. Capitol by domestic terrorists will long be remembered as one of the worst days in the political history of our democratic republic. Obviously, the event is all the worse for being incited by political leaders who feed their followers a steady diet of fictional conspiracy theories. Whenever there is mob violence in the United States, including Wednesday’s horrific scenes broadcast for hours on live television, we must always fear the risks posed by the widespread possession of firearms under our country’s permissive gun laws. Indeed, a woman was killed by gunfire inside the Capitol during the shocking event. Some advocates of permissive gun laws like to claim that citizens’ possession of firearms safeguards the country’s liberty. That is an assertion that deserves critical scrutiny and debate. The actual evidence at hand teaches us that we must instead be aware that citizens’ possession of firearms can clearly be a threat to democracy.
What lessons can Michiganders draw from the tragic insurrection in Washington? First, no one can now say that it is “impossible” or “unimaginable” that our own state capitol could be subject to a similar violent invasion by domestic terrorists. Security at our capitol is much weaker than that at the U.S. Capitol. Our capitol is vulnerable and we have evidence that conspirators have discussed the possibility of mounting an invasion to cause mayhem and attack our state’s governing system.
Second, unlike the U.S. Capitol, where citizens are forbidden from entering with firearms (although some apparently violated that rule during the invasion), domestic terrorists in Michigan can walk unimpeded into the state capitol while carrying weapons of war and other firearms. The entire nation has seen the photos of gun-toting protesters attempting to intimidate our elected representatives by carrying military-style rifles while looking down at Michigan legislators from the Capitol’s visitor gallery. We also know that several of those gun-toting protesters were later revealed to be among the accused conspirators who allegedly planned to kidnap and harm our governor. The unwillingness of the Capitol Commission and the state legislature to impose a sensible firearms prohibition in the seat of our state’s democracy creates horrific risks for visiting school children, tourists, staff members, and legislators.
Third, no legislator should feel immune from these risks. A particular political party affiliation will provide no protection if bullets ever fly inside our legislative chambers, as happened in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954 when five members of Congress were wounded by four protesters firing pistols from the visitor gallery. In Michigan, President Trump did not only direct his followers to criticize our top elected officials from the Democratic Party. He also targeted top elected officials from Michigan’s Republican Party who withstood presidential pressure to interfere in the process that properly credited votes in the 2020 election. Indeed, recent news reports revealed that President Trump distributed the private cell phone numbers for Republican leaders of the Michigan House and Senate and encouraged his millions of followers to call these leaders and pressure them to change the certification of votes (albeit with one wrong number that led an unfortunate former resident of Petoskey to receive a flood of threats intended for Trump’s target) [LeBlanc, 2021; Peiser, 2021].
President Trump will soon leave office, but there is no way to know if a future political leader will emulate his attack strategy against state leaders who refuse to bend to improper pressure. And there is no way to know if a future leader will emulate the use of fictional conspiracy theories to motivate Americans to commit acts of anti-democracy violence. Such events could happen in Michigan and would threaten the shared interest of both political parties in maintaining a stable, reliable governing system.
All Michiganders, across the entire spectrum of political parties and viewpoints on the Second Amendment, should now be able to come together and agree that our current rule at the Capitol needlessly creates risks of gun violence. These risks not only threaten individuals, but also threaten our democratic governing processes. The risk of violence inside a revered citadel of democratic government is no longer hypothetical and can no longer be dismissed as a fanciful fear. The members of our new state legislature have just been sworn in and seated for the next two-year term. In light of Wednesday’s horrific events in Washington, it is time—yet again—for Michiganders to make their views known about the risk of gun violence inside our state’s capitol. The probabilities of a similar tragedy unfolding in Lansing are unknown. The risks of injuries and deaths, however, are significantly greater here in light of our current permissive rules regarding firearms inside the historic home of our essential governing institution.