Open carry, with certain exceptions, will be permitted Tuesday, a decision that some local residents find unsettling.
For some residents who oppose open carry of firearms, their stance isn’t political – it’s personal.
Although an unfortunate reality, there are Michigan and Monroe County residents who know what it’s like to have been a victim of gun violence — a traumatic experience that leaves most survivors feeling threatened or unsafe by the presence of firearms.
So certainly these residents oppose open carry to the polls on Election Day, a move they believe may intimidate voters from casting their selection for national, state and local offices.
On Thursday, a three-member panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected hearing Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s appeal of a ruling which struck down her ban on the open carrying of guns at or around polling locations in the state.
That means open carry, with certain exceptions, will be permitted on Tuesday, a decision that some local residents find unsettling and, in some cases, potentially dangerous.
“I have been a victim of gun violence, so a chill ran through me when I read that Jocelyn Benson’s order prohibiting guns at polling places was overturned by a Michigan judge,” said Sister Janet Ryan of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) in Monroe.
“People who have had a gun pulled on them on the street or been threatened with other forms gun violence react immediately to them being allowed.
“Sorry, no one needs to have a gun to go in a polling place… Violence begets violence. Personal safety is not enhanced anywhere by guns.”
Sister Ryan joins a bipartisan group of Monroe County faith, education and advocacy groups who have denounced the open carry of weapons at the polls, calling for a peaceful Election Day that’s free from intimidation or fear.
The local activists join several state leaders, many representing communities of faith, who have since formed petitions or planned public forums to ask local communities and state leadership also to take a stance against open carry at the polls after the appeals court upheld the right.
The Network for Advocates for Justice, Inspired by Catholic Sisters and Faith Leaders United have launched online petitions asking for support to eradicate voter suppression, including carrying weapons while voting.
Ahead of Election Day, faith leaders representing statewide communities also intend to gather 1 p.m. Monday on Zoom to call on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Benson to ensure voters are able to cast their ballots without intimidation or violence.
“Voting is meant to be a free and civil act that reflects the voter’s conscience. It is every citizen’s responsibility to vote and nothing should impair it’s free exercise,” said a statement from the Monroe Catholic Vicariate.
“Guns or weapons that, when displayed, can be perceived as instruments of intimidation or images of potential harm, have no place in a voting forum.
“Carrying guns into polling sites or the area immediately surrounding them can incite fear and duress. This form of intimidation is bullying and should not be tolerated anywhere, including voting precincts.”
Although concerns about voter intimidation involving firearms are valid, an appeals court panel said, it explained that the state already has laws to handle those issues.
Anyone who intimidates a Michigan voter by brandishing a firearm in public is committing a felony, according to Michigan law. Voter intimidation also is illegal.
“I am a grassroots activist very concerned with the liberal mindset of our law-making Attorney General (Dana Nessel),” said Wayne Blank, a Monroe Township resident and instructor for the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“This is another example of not enforcing a law, but making up a law. Simply trying to intimidate law abiding citizens who do things according to the law.”
There is no Michigan law, however, that expressly permits the open carry of firearms. Rather, it’s presumed to be legal anywhere it’s not expressly prohibited, like courthouses, hospitals, casinos and large sports arenas.
Since schools are often used as polling places – and guns are generally prohibited on school grounds – some voters may be deterred from open carrying in those locations as well. Concealed pistol license holders are allowed to open carry on school property, though.
Additionally, several guns rights groups have filed lawsuits protecting their rights to carry guns while voting, although none appear to have direct ties to Monroe County.
Some of those lawsuits came from Michigan Open Carry Inc., Michigan Gun Owners and the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners.
“We the people will not be intimidated,” said William Parker, president of Monroe’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“And we can identify those elected to uphold the rights of all. So don’t worry about those groups who use adjectives in their names, or the man lurking with his assault rifle.”
The following are statements from other Monroe County groups who recently have denounced open carry at the polls:
THE STRONGER TOGETHER HUDDLE
“It’s time to ask Monroe County to stand against intimidation and possible violence (from open carrying at the polls),” said Sharon McNeil, co-organizer of The Huddle.
“We just had the FBI foil a plan to kidnap the governor – threats are danger and violence can ensue. These are not normal times and more violent crimes can occur.”
The Monroe County Huddle is a branch of a national group that formed from the Women’s March on Washington in 2016 and is aimed at re-energizing the feminist movement.
MCCC BOARD OF TRUSTEES
“The MCCC Board of Trustees is committed to uniting against racism, social injustice, and all forms of inequity. That is the core of our Resolution Against Racial Injustice,” President Kojo Quartey said in a statement.
“As a consequence, Monroe County Community College denounces and condemns any form of voter suppression and intimidation, including the open carrying of guns and assault weapons at or near Monroe County polling places and at any local rallies or marches.
“As an educational institution, we are non-partisan and focus on student success while transforming and enriching lives in our community.”
COALITION FOR RACIAL EQUALITY AND DIVERSITY
“CREED denounces and condemns any form of voter suppression and intimidation, including the open carrying of guns and assault weapons at or near Monroe County polling places and at any local rallies or marches,” Quartey also stated on behalf of this group.
CREED is a group of Monroe County residents which formed as a result of the racial unrest in the country after the death of George Floyd, an African American male from Minnesota who was killed by a white police officer.
SISTERS, SERVANTS OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY
“Specifically, we strongly oppose the recent decision to allow gun owners in Michigan to openly carry weapons at or near polling places,” IHM said in a statement.
“The Second Amendment should never be used to justify impeding upon the electoral process or intimidating voters. This nation can only live up to its democratic ideals when all are confident that they can vote freely and without undue hardship for the candidates of their choosing.
“Specifically, we urge our local leaders across the political spectrum to urge citizens to refrain from carrying weapons to polling places on Election Day and to refrain from violence or the threat of violence on Election Day and beyond.”
MONROE COUNTY FAITH LEADERS
“As Christians, we can clearly state that violence, racism and favoritism in any form are contrary to the teachings of God,” said Pastor Kevin Eccles of Monroe Free Methodist Church on behalf of local faith leaders.
“We condemn them in all the various forms they take, and call for peace on this upcoming Election Day.
“We ask that our civic leaders do the same, and that we all commit to leaving weapons and hatred at home as we go vote this coming Tuesday. We pray for peace for all.”
The following faith leaders endorsed Eccles’ statement:
– Reva. Kevin M. and Melanie M. Eccles, Monroe Free Methodist Church
– Pastor Heather Boone, Oaks of Righteousness Christian Church
– Rev. Cynthia Garman, Priest-In-Charge, Trinity Episcopal Church
– Rev. Jeff Heimsoth, Trinity Lutheran Church
– Rev. David Hively, Christ Lutheran Church
– Vic Holtz, Senior Pastor, Monroe Vineyard Church
– Pastor Jennifer Kiefer, St. John Lutheran Church, Dundee
– Rev. Andrew Leaman, Gracepoint
– Daniel J Reaume, Redeemer Fellowship Church
– Deacon Mike Stewart, St. Mary and St. John the Baptist Catholic Communities
– Tom & Renee Treece, Guided Ministries