GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Though members of a gun organization brought their guns to the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting Tuesday night to press for an ordinance change, Mayor George Heartwell made it clear that's not going to happen.
Michigan Open Carry said this city ordinance -- "No person shall draw, handle or flourish any firearm in any public street, alley or other place open to the public in the City of Grand Rapids" -- is too strong and contradicts state law.
"A firearm is just an inanimate object, it doesn't hurt anyone," said Michigan Open Carry President Phillip Hofmeister. "If someone is afraid of inanimate objects, I can't control that."
The group said it has a proposal that would amend the city ordinance.
Some people at the meeting -- including children -- were uncomfortable with people openly carrying guns.
But in a statement, Mayor Heartwell made it clear he's not in favor of amending this city ordinance, even if it does conflict with state law.
In part, Heartwell said, "Mr. Lambert and his comrades claim our ordinance violates state law. They may be correct. Whether they are correct or not, however, I have no interest in amending our ordinance nor have I heard interest on the part of my colleagues in doing so."
The city commission has not said whether it will consider the proposal.
The full text of Mayor Heartwell's statement is below:
The issue of open carry of firearms in public meetings has been raised rather prominently by Mr. Lamberts of Kentwood and his friends who have come, armed, into our chambers challenging our ordinance and suggesting that it is in violation of state statute. Mr. Lambert and the good citizens of Grand Rapids deserve a response and I'll attempt to articulate one. I hasten to add that it is my response and not necessarily reflective of the position of my City Commission colleagues.
First, let me say how abhorrent it is for me to see guns in public meetings or, for that matter, guns at polling stations on election days. This is not because I am anti-gun. From age 16-33 I was a gun owner, long guns, shotguns that I used in hunting pheasants, ruffed grouse and ducks with my father, and later with my friends. I have a very healthy respect for guns.
No, guns in public meetings knot my stomach because they function to suppress free speech. In the heat of a public debate on a contentious issue, guns have a chilling impact on citizens. "If I wish to state a position that differs from that gun-toter, will I be safe? In the chambers? In the hallway or parking lot after the meeting?" And how about Commissioners who, by oath, must cast difficult votes on divisive issues? Will the presence of guns in the audience impact my vote? Will I think first of my city or first of my personal safety?
Then there is the assertion that open carry is permissible in polling stations on election days. I put my life in some risk in 1994 when I stood, armed only by a light blue United Nations cloth vest, between gun-bearing soldiers and gun bearing Zulu mine workers in a tense stand off over voter rights in Tembisa Township, South Africa. I was there as an international elections observer to make certain that people would be safe when they went into the voting booth. By the three days of elections we ensured that no one could come armed into any polling place. How anti-democratic we have become in permitting open carry into voting stations.
These are serious issues. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. The Bill of Rights of the Constitution starts with the guarantee of free speech. The second article in the Bill of Rights is the right to bear arms. If these two Constitutionally-guaranteed rights are in conflict, then I can tell you I will come down on the right of free speech.
Mr. Lambert and his comrades claim our ordinance violates state law. They may be correct. Whether they are correct or not, however, I have no interest in amending our ordinance nor have I heard interest on the part of my colleagues in doing so.
On the other hand citizens have suggested that we simply pass an ordinance to ban guns in public buildings. The simple answer is that the State will not allow us to adopt such an ordinance.
Which brings me to my final point.
Gun laws in our state and nation need to be changed. We simply must have reasonable gun control. We must keep guns out of the hands of criminals and sociopaths, we must ban assault-type military weapons for civilian possession, and we must keep guns out of public buildings including voting stations.
I call on the citizens of Grand Rapids to join me in petitioning our state legislature to put in place rational gun control measures. I have heard from a number of citizens who want to join in forming a Coalition for Gun Control. I intend to offer the support and leadership of my office to launch such an effort in our city.
These aren't easy issues. They don't lend themselves to clear-cut, black and white answers. But they are important issues for today.
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