Michigan Lawmakers Wear Bulletproof Vests as Armed Protesters Mass at State Capitol in Protest
As Michigan lawmakers suited up for work on Thursday, some chose to wear bulletproof vests as hundreds of armed protesters gathered at the Capitol building in Lansing.
Photos and videos of the rainy day depicted a chaotic scene outside — and eventually inside — the Capitol as people protested the Michigan's state of emergency due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which legislators were debating extending on Thursday.
Demonstrators eventually moved indoors from the rain outside, and several were photographed bringing their weapons with them.
Michigan is an open-carry state, meaning that it is legal for a person to carry a firearm "as long as the person is carrying the firearm with lawful intent and the firearm is not concealed," according to the state police.
"It is legal because there is no Michigan law that prohibits it; however, Michigan law limits the premises on which a person may carry a firearm," a state police legal update says. The Capitol building is not included on that list of places where it illegal to carry.
"Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us. Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them," Sen. Dayna Polehanki wrote on Twitter, sharing a photo of several armed men inside the Capitol. "I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today."
Footage shared online from the protests show House Sergeants at Arms and police blocking protesters from entering the House of Representatives floor.
When reached by PEOPLE, Polehanki's chief of staff said that state Sen. Sylvia Santana of Detroit was the only senator who agreed to be identified as wearing a bulletproof vest. Polehanki shared a photo of Santana wearing the vest and a mask at her desk with The Independent Thursday.
The demonstrators were organized by Michigan United for Liberty for the protest, which is being called the "American Patriot Rally," NBC News reported. The group is calling for the end of the state's state of emergency and a reopening of the state.
The state of emergency — which is separate from Michigan's stay-at-home order — was set to expire at midnight Thursday, but a 28-day extension had been proposed.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed one of the country's most strict stay-at-home orders earlier this month, which prompted thousands of Michiganders to join a caravan to the Capitol building in protest. The Governor previously said that the more protests, the longer the stay-at-home order will likely have to remain in place.
"The more that they’re out and about, the more likely they are to spread COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus] and the more likely we’re going to have to take this posture for a longer period of time," she told CNN.
Michigan has been one of the states hit hardest during the pandemic. As of Thursday afternoon, there are at least 41,379 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,789 deaths related to the virus in the state.
Nationwide, there are more than one million confirmed cases.
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