Flint, MI — Flint City Hall is now a “gun-free zone” following weeks of alleged death threats toward councilmembers, the installation of a metal detector outside of council’s third floor chambers, and both officials and residents carrying guns during committee meetings on Oct. 18, 2023.
City hall’s gun-free designation was announced in an Oct. 23 city press release.
“The City of Flint has agreed to allocate space in Flint City Hall for the 67th District Court to hold hearings, and City Hall is now subject to the security orders of the 67th District Court,” the release read.
It went on to note that the designation meant city hall “is now a gun-free zone, pursuant to Local Administrative Order 2020-01J” of the 67th District Court.
“No weapons or other impermissible items are allowed in the Genesee County Courthouse, 67th District Court-McCree Building … or any satellite District Court or office,” the administrative order states.
The gun-free designation comes after Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley installed a metal detector outside of council chambers last week, a move he called a “proactive tool” in response to “credible threats” of violence toward councilmembers.
At the time, he told Flint Beat, “The metal detectors were installed … so that public safety personnel could be aware of firearms in the room. We should have the ability to know if someone is walking into a place of government with a gun.”
In a separate interview after the detectors’ first use last week, Neeley acknowledged that he respected the laws around gun ownership in Michigan, but he would continue to look into measures to ensure officials’ and public safety while visiting city hall.
“I’m willing to step out there boldly and say: ‘In this building, we won’t tolerate it,'” Neeley said on Oct. 20. “We know what the state law says, that I cannot prohibit firearms or ammunition in a municipal building… But … I’m still investigating ways we can make this a gun-free zone, so people can feel safe about doing the work that they do without the threat of violence.”
At council’s first meeting after city hall’s gun-free designation on Oct. 23, residents and city staff passed through a metal detector and interacted with two police officers upon entry to the building.
Bags were searched and residents were not permitted entry if they had a weapon — a stark contrast from last week, when one resident walked through the building with a semi-automatic rifle.
During the council’s ensuing special affairs committee meeting, councilmembers and residents weighed in on the city’s recent announcement.
Flint City Councilwoman Tonya Burns said she wanted to look into the measure’s legality and process.
“I don’t want to violate anybody’s rights, and we have to respect everyone,” she said.
Flint resident Beverly Biggs-Leavy said during public comment that she found the gun-free inspection process “ridiculous.”
“You’ve got all this stuff downstairs that we have to check in and be checked for guns, that’s ridiculous,” she told the council.
Despite city hall’s new gun-free designation, Flint City Councilwoman Judy Priestley had a gun strapped to a holster around her waist during the meeting. She told Flint Beat she was allowed to have it because she was open carrying, has a concealed pistol license and is an elected official.
In an emailed statement on Oct. 23, City of Flint administration told Flint Beat that there are reasons beyond becoming a gun-free zone that caused the city to partner with the court.
“This will help facilitate the City of Flint’s Administrative Hearings Bureau, sometimes called ‘blight court,’ which is an important tool for fighting blight in our city. We are now expanding services with the 67th District Court,” the statement read. “We are working with the 67th District Court to schedule hearings at Flint City Hall, and we expect them to commence in a matter of weeks.”
The statement also cited the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and noted that the city remains under a gun violence emergency.
“The January 6 insurrection showed us the dangers of what happens when armed people threaten the work of government. We saw that threats can turn to violence at a moment’s notice,” the statement read.”The City of Flint is still under the declaration of a gun violence emergency, allowing us to bring more resources to push back against the devastating consequences of gun violence.”
When asked what protocols residents can expect during city hall’s daily operation, such as when people come in to pay a water bill, the city administration returned the following statement on Oct. 24:
Flint City Hall is now a gun-free zone, operating with enforceable criminal penalties, depending on the severity of the situation. The City of Flint is increasing staffing levels to support regular use of the metal detector during operational hours of city hall, as well as during city council meetings. For now, it will be active during city council meetings and other large gatherings as needed. We are taking additional security precautions due to threats and harassment against city council members.
The City of Flint has been working to implement additional security measures since May of this year, when the administration began restricting access to non-public areas of Flint City Hall.– City of Flint’s Oct. 24, 2023 statement on “gun-free zone” protocols at Flint City Hall