Detroit Council members carry guns for safety
They defend decision, say they won't bring them to City Hall

The Detroit News | November 11, 2009
By Leonard N. Fleming and Darren Nichols

Detroit -- Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said he has had death threats in the past and when in public, Kenyatta usually carries a concealed weapon.

Councilman-elect Gary Brown, a former deputy police chief and officer who was involved in narcotics investigations, said he arms himself when he feels the need to ensure his safety.

Several incoming council members, including Council President-elect Charles Pugh, said they have concealed weapons permits and carry guns for safety in a city known for its hard-nosed crime and tough neighborhoods.

But none said they plan to bring their weapons to City Hall, where armed security officers are assigned to council meetings to protect them.

A 2002 city ordinance bars concealed weapons from public buildings except in the hands of police.

"This is a gun-toting state," said Kenyatta, who has had his concealed weapon permit for years and carries the gun around on most days in public. "I'm an opinionated individual and there are those that don't like what I say or do oftentimes, so I have had some threats here and there over the years."

The issue, these future and current council leaders said, is making sure they feel safe traveling at night.

Being a police officer for more than 35 years, Brown said carrying a gun "is no big deal" but he warned that people should become "proficient with these weapons before they start just carrying them."

Brown said he was shot in the 1980s during a narcotics investigation and the culprit was never apprehended. As a former police officer, he said, carrying a gun is automatic.

"It's an individual choice for each council person," he added.

Others, like Councilman-elect James Tate, a former spokesman for the Detroit Police Department, declined to comment but said, "I'll follow the law," when asked about council members not being able to pack a gun in session.

But Reggie "Reg" Davis, the former radio deejay elected last week to the City Charter Commission, was critical of public officials who carry weapons, calling it a "disgrace" because it sends the wrong message.

He said he will fight to keep council members from bringing guns to City Hall.

"You need to be like Gandhi, be the change that you wish to see," said Davis, whose younger brother was gunned down in Detroit. "The people elected you to show them a different way to go and you're walking around carrying guns. That is the most ignorant way to do things. If I'm a City Council person, I don't want guns."

Sharon McPhail, a former councilwoman who wrote the ordinance banning guns in city buildings, said her idea originally came from protecting people in schools and recreation centers from violence.

McPhail said she couldn't be critical of anyone, including future and current council members, wanting to carry a gun, as long as they don't carry it in places around children.

"I can't make a determination on whether their safety is threatened or not," McPhail said. "I never felt that I needed to carry a gun, but that was my personal choice."

The Rev. Andre Spivey, newly elected to the council, said he picked up a concealed weapons permit application Monday and has plans to get a gun for his protection.

"I don't expect to tote it everywhere I go, flash it or brandish it at the City-County Building," said the pastor of St. Paul AME Church. "I'd rather have it and not need it."