(Reuters) – Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray sided with gun-rights advocates on Tuesday in allowing the open carrying of firearms at polling places on Election Day and blocking enforcement of an order by state authorities barring such weapon displays to prevent voter intimidation.
State Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, vowed to immediately appeal the judge’s ruling, saying “this issue is of significant public interest and importance to our election process.”
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, also a Democrat and the state’s top election official, issued a directive on Oct. 16 prohibiting the open carrying of guns at polling stations, clerk’s offices and other places where absentee ballots are tabulated.
Nessel and the head of the state police, Colonel Joe Gasper, joined in endorsing the open-carry restriction, announced a week after 13 men were arrested on charges of taking part in a plot by armed extremists to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer.
At least three of the defendants were among hundreds of protesters, many carrying weapons, who thronged the Michigan capitol on April 30 as state lawmakers debated Whitmer’s request to extend her emergency public health authority to order social-distancing rules aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus infections. Photos showed that all three men were armed.
Michigan is an “open-carry” state, meaning a firearm can be generally carried in public by its lawful owner without a permit, though that does not apply to churches, schools, libraries, hospitals and a handful of other public places.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Grant McCool