Guns in the Big House? Legislation allowing concealed weapons in gun-free zones raises concerns
Purses, umbrellas and water bottles are prohibited inside Michigan Stadium, but the next time you go cheer on the Wolverines you might be able to bring a loaded gun.
A controversial bill that would change the rules around concealed weapons in Michigan and expand where they can be carried has gained traction in the Legislature's lame duck session.
Senate Bill 59, which passed out of the Republican-controlled Senate in a 27-11 vote last week, would eliminate county gun boards and allow people who get extra training to carry concealed weapons in so-called "gun-free" zones, including college campuses, schools, hospitals, daycare centers, sports arenas, bars, churches and large entertainment venues that seat thousands.
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"Our goal is a safe and secure environment and we don't believe the bill allows us to advance our goal of providing a safe and secure environment free from threats or acts of violence," he said. "Our state universities are some of the safest places you can be, and this bill, we think, will impede our commitment to the safety and security of our universities."
The primary sponsor of the legislation is Sen. Mike Green, a Republican who represents Arenac, Bay, Huron, Sanilac and Tuscola counties. Green could not be reached for comment, but he said last week he believes the bill would provide better service and only well-trained permit holders who know how to use a gun and how to defend themselves would be able to carry in gun-free zones.
Green said back in March the state's gun-free zones were added as part of legislative "sausage making" years ago. He said his bill addresses "dramatic inconsistencies" in how county gun boards behave, and it's not his intention that all of the hundreds of thousands of people who carry concealed weapons in Michigan will carry in gun-free zones.
The Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners maintains forbidding law-abiding permit holders to carry concealed weapons in some public places make the sites "mass murder empowerment zones" for criminals.
Under the legislation, permit holders would be allowed to carry concealed in gun-free zones if they undergo an extra nine hours of training beyond the current eight. They also would have to fire an extra 94 rounds at the range beyond the 98 the legislation requires for a basic permit.
"That, on its face, is a little troublesome," said Kirk Profit of Governmental Consultant Services Inc., a Lansing lobbying firm that represents a number of governmental entities in Washtenaw County.
Profit said his clients — including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Washtenaw County, U-M and Washtenaw Community College — are concerned about the legislation due to a lack of clarity in what actually would happen if it passes.
"There's a need for clarity as to what would be the law if this thing passes," he said. "On the face of it, this would allow for concealed weapons in venues where they're not currently allowed, and that is clearly the goal of the sponsor. I've talked to him on multiple occasions and that is his goal."
Profit said the question is whether Michigan's trespass laws still would allow property owners, public and private, to exercise their right to ban guns on their properties if they choose.
"I'm not sure we want people carrying weapons either openly or concealed in large sports arenas, in classes, in emergency rooms, in daycare centers," he said. "There's trouble related to that."
The legislation would eliminate county concealed weapons licensing boards, with sheriffs taking over their duties. Sheriff Jerry Clayton said the legislation concerns him.
"There are a lot of unknowns more than anything," he said. "We are keeping a watchful eye on the bill. I will stop short of saying it presents a threat to the public, but it does cause those of us in law enforcement concern. I understand people like to carry arms, but those places were designated gun-free zones for a reason, and I don't think that reason has changed."
With a majority of the 110 members of the state House not having to worry about being re-elected again, either because they're in their final weeks in office or they'll be serving out their final term starting in January, Profit said more interesting than usual things are happening in Lansing.
With pending legislation that would expand opportunities to own large carnivores such as lions, tigers and bears, some have joked that maybe Michiganders do need to be armed.
The concealed weapons bill was introduced at the start of the legislative session in January 2011 but it sat mostly dormant until passing out of the Senate in the lame duck. It was read in the House last week and referred to Natural Resources, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Frank Foster, a Republican who represents the Petoskey area.
Foster could not be reached for comment to confirm when the bill might get a hearing and when it might go to the House floor for a vote.
"This bill has been sitting on the floor of the Senate since last March and it has just moved very quickly, and it appears it's part of a package deal, so we're taking our concerns over to the House," Boulus said of how universities are responding to the bill's movement.
"Why would you want to expand guns into dormitories and classrooms?" he added. "It's just counterintuitive. And having firearms in our densely populated stadiums? You can't take a purse into our stadiums, but we're going to allow guns? That's just not good common sense."
Churches are worried, too.
Dave Maluchnik, spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference, said the Catholic church in Michigan would rather see the state's gun laws remain unchanged.
"We believe churches are a place for peace and reconciliation and we don't believe a law allowing more guns in churches is good public policy," he said.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.