Guns on campus? New bill would allow it; reactions mixed
Concealed firearms would be allowed on college campuses in Michigan under legislation being considered by a House committee.
Colleges and universities are currently exempt from a statute that bans local governments from tampering with state gun laws. Both Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan have regents' ordinances banning all concealed weapons from campus, except for those carried by campus police.
Under a separate gun law that's already in place, guns are prohibited from classrooms, dormitories, stadiums that seat over 2,500 people, hospitals, places of worship and other areas. The new legislation wouldn't change that, but it would allow those with Michigan Concealed Pistol Licenses to carry firearms in other campus areas.
First Lt. Matt Bolger, a legislative liaison for the Michigan State Police, said the state police helped to develop this bill and five others considered by the committee Tuesday. The group of bills came about after lawmakers contacted state police last year looking for gun law inconsistencies, he said.
"We're neutral on the university bill," Bolger said. "Because it's an issue we were made aware of, we told the Legislature about it, but it's nothing we're pushing for passage or trying to stop the passage of. We're there as a resource for them to work through the legal issues."
Bolger said incredulous phone calls from someone stopped by campus police at an undisclosed university highlighted the inconsistency and prompted the bill.
The man had a concealed pistol license and a gun in his car, which was legal under state law, but not under the campus ordinance. While the man wasn't ticketed or arrested, the campus police told him he was committing a crime.
State police may be neutral on the issue, but police chiefs at EMU and U-M spoke out against the new legislation.
U-M Police Chief Ken Magee testified before the Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday.
Magee called mixing guns and a college campus is a "recipe for disaster."
"The overwhelming majority of our campus members, including students, faculty and staff as well as parents of our students, demand a safe and secure campus and would not endorse the idea of having firearms on campus," Magee said he told the committee. "The only guns and weapons I would like to see on campus are those held by law enforcement officers specially trained in the use of weapons."
When committee members discussed that weapons would not be allowed in dormitories or classrooms, Magee expressed concern and pointed out the numerous places on campus where guns would be allowed, such as the Diag, museums, theaters and study centers.
Magee and Wayne State University Police Chief Anthony Holz were the only campus police chiefs who testified from Michigan's 15 public universities. Holz was also against the legislation. Others, like gun shop owners, a firearms rights group and a Wayne State student, testified in favor of the measure.
EMU Police Chief Greg O'Dell said the legislation presents a number of safety concerns.
"You could have a simple altercation that might involve fists. When you have people who are armed, there is the possibility of increasing the level of violence," O'Dell said. "With a number of people are carrying handguns, the possibility of the accidental discharge of a weapon is also a concern."
Around U-M's campus today, opinions were mixed.
"Nobody needs a gun on campus," said Laura Harlow, a U-M employee. "There are already too many crazy people. Why would anybody need a gun in this city?"
One student worried about the possible mix of alcohol and guns on college campuses.
"Guns should not be permitted on college campuses around the country," said Simon Foster, an education major at U-M. There's a huge number of people who drink in college. It's absurd to mix alcohol with the right to have a gun."
Sociology major Kiley Trupiano disagreed.
"In general, I think gun laws are too strict," she said. "The recent college shootings could have been stopped if someone else had a gun."
Regarding that point, Magee disagreed: "Law enforcement officers are trained to react with weapons in a certain way. It would only create more of a difficult situation for our officers in the event we did get a call for a possible active shooter."
To obtain a CPL, an applicant must be a 21 years old, a U.S. citizen and a Michigan resident for at least six months, with some exceptions. Applicants must have a record clear of various crimes and complete a safety training course.
Bolger said the committee, which meets on Tuesdays, will consider testimony it heard this week and possibly amend the bill at its next session.