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Friday, May 1, 2020
Michigan Reopen Protests May Do More Harm Than Good
hat does open-carry have to do with rescinding shelter-in-place restrictions for the pandemic? A lot apparently since gun-toting protesters have popped up around the country to demand that the economy be reopened. The latest such protests took place in Michigan where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has put in place strict guidelines to combat the Coronavirus pandemic there.
Michigan United for Liberty organized Thursday’s rally in Lansing under the name, “American Patriot Rally.” NBC News reported that hundreds of people, some armed, protested at the state capitol. Protesters also carried American flags and chanted, “Let us in!” and “This is the people’s house, you cannot lock us out.” Some protesters entered the capitol building and tried to gain access to the House chamber but were blocked by state police and sergeants-at-arms.
Nothing says “uphold the Constitution and the rule of law” like an angry, armed mob storming government buildings. While I have sympathy for people who are concerned about their financial wellbeing and the economy as a result of the pandemic and the need to shelter-in-place, I am far less sympathetic for unruly demonstrators who use their right to bear arms to implicitly threaten an armed revolt.
Michigan’s shelter-in-place rules have come under fire by Republicans for being too restrictive. Michigan’s Republican Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield tweeted, “Instead of essential vs non-essential, we should think safe vs unsafe.” Chatfield said that activities such as lawn care, construction, motorized boating, realtors, and buying seeds and gardening supplies that are currently prohibited should be allowed.
“The Senate Republicans believe a strategic application of ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ is appropriate going forward. Individuals living in regions of the state that are experiencing little to no growth in infection rates should be able to return to their jobs to support their families if proper safety protocols are put in place,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, said in a statement quoted by WZZM News.
Even though protesters disagree with the rules, a Michigan court upheld their legality yesterday. Court of Claims Judge Christopher M. Murray said in the ruling, quoted by ABC News, “Although the Court is painfully aware of the difficulties of living under the restrictions of these executive orders, those difficulties are temporary, while to those who contract the virus and cannot recover (and to their family members and friends), it is all too permanent.” The ruling is in line with precedent that gives executives broad-but-limited powers in temporary emergencies.
And that’s the key. No matter how fervently the protesters believe that the restrictions are a gateway to tyranny or that the pandemic is overblown, the restrictions are neither unconstitutional nor unprecedented. There is a valid reason for the shelter-in-place and the governor has the authority to decide what restrictions are appropriate during the state of emergency.
Michigan has one of the highest rates of Coronavirus deaths in the country. Although the state seems to be on the backside of the curve, some areas are still deeply affected by the pandemic. The state currently reports 41,379 cases with about 1,000 new cases per day. The state has had 3,789 Coronavirus deaths.
Interestingly, despite the fact that “reopen” protesters seem to be almost exclusively Trump supporters, the president has flipflopped the issue. Trump criticized Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for reopening his state too early recently tweeted that the US made the correct decision in sheltering-in-place, undermining a common talking point of critics of the economic hiatus.
The protesters are also at odds with pubic opinion in Michigan. A recent Fox News poll found that 72 percent of Michiganders were concerned about the Coronavirus pandemic and that those who thought Gov. Whitmer’s order was “about right” or “not restrictive enough” outnumbered those who thought it was “too restrictive” by more than two-to-one. The same is true nationally as 80 percent of Americans and 61 percent of Republicans continue to favor sheltering-in-place per a KFF Health Tracking poll from last week.
Economic activity in a pandemic does not operate under the principle of “if you open it, they will come.” Business activity is unlikely to return to anything resembling normal until people can be assured that they won’t contract the virus or pass it to someone that they love.
There should be room for compromise on Michigan’s shelter-in-place rules, however. Areas that are not hard-hit could have restrictions relaxed to allow farmers to buy and plant seeds. Outdoor activities that are performed in isolation could be safely allowed. Michigan’s outbreak is trending down and may be completely lifted soon.
In any case, if reopen protesters want to change minds and be taken seriously, they should take steps to come across as less wild and crazy than they seem on video from Lansing. In a pandemic, it is not smart to form a crowd of close-standing protesters who are not wearing protective equipment. This is not how you gain sympathy from people concerned about a communicable disease.
Likewise, protesters should leave the guns at home. I am a carry-permit holder and a proponent of Second Amendment rights but there is a time to carry your gun and a time to leave it at home. If you want to win over people, many of whom are not comfortable with guns, you don’t stick guns in their faces. Open carry at such a protest might be legal, but that doesn’t make it smart.
In contrast, a horde of armed protesters pushing their way into the state capitol is likely to convince people that Michigan’s gun laws are too lenient. Scaring people by acting irresponsibly with guns is how you convince people to vote for anti-gun politicians.
I’ve believed for years that most protests are more about protesters feeling good about themselves and blowing off steam than convincing politicians to make any policy changes. If you doubt this, just think about your own reaction to any liberal protest. My rule of thumb appears to be true of the reopen rallies, which are out of the mainstream of public opinion and which may be doing both the reopen and Second Amendment causes more harm than good.