LANSING, Mich. — Over strong objections from educators, a Michigan Senate panel approved legislation Tuesday to allow concealed weapons in schools and other places that are now off-limits for hidden weapons.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, in 4-1 votes, approved Senate Bills 442 and 561. The package of bills is described as compromise legislation that would allow concealed pistol license holders to carry in schools and other areas that are now off-limits to them under state law. But it would prevent, in those same areas, the “open carry” practiced by gun rights enthusiasts that has caused disruption and led to legal action in places such as schools, universities and public libraries.
The bills now move to the full Senate.
Timothy Hall, superintendent of Sault Ste. Marie Area Public Schools, was among leaders who spoke against the bills.
Hall said he is a concealed pistol license holder and avid hunter who supports gun rights, but “I do not … in any way, shape or form support the ability or opportunity to carry guns in schools, unless they are trained law enforcement officers.”
He said he would prefer legislation that would help schools have the funding to hire trained and armed personnel to help protect their students.
Sen. Mike Green, a Republican from Mayville, the sponsor of SB 442, said after the hearing he understands many educators don’t want guns in schools, but he said they have to accept that under the U.S. Constitution, law-abiding citizens with concealed pistol licenses now have the right to carry guns into schools, as long as they are not concealed.
“We’re actually attempting to do them a favor,” said Green. “We as gun owners have every right in the world to carry in gun-free zones. Are we going to give that up?
“We’re trying to step back and say, ‘We’ll cover them up, if you guys are willing.’ “
But many educators said they don’t want any guns in schools, carried openly or concealed, except in the hands of law enforcement. They create danger because a concealed pistol license holder could accidentally drop a weapon or forget one inside a coat in a school building, as has happened in Michigan, said Jeanice Swift, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Not all educators agreed, however.
Fletcher Spears III, superintendent of Clio Area Schools, which lost a court bid to stop the open carry of a firearm on school property, testified that he supports the bill package.
“I adamantly oppose pistol-free zones,” which only provide opportunities for sick people and mentally ill people to commit suicide while taking others with them, Spears said.
But openly carrying firearms on school property creates too much of a distraction, he said. The legislation ends that distraction while “providing for the rights of citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”
Under Michigan law, holders of concealed pistol licenses are not allowed to carry concealed weapons at schools, except while dropping off or picking up children; at day care centers, sports arenas or stadiums; at entertainment facilities that seat 2,500 or more; at bars, churches, hospitals, casinos and dormitories or classrooms of colleges or universities.
State law doesn’t prohibit the open carry of firearms at universities, community colleges or public libraries, and there has been a spate of recent court cases in which gun rights activists with concealed pistol licenses have challenged the authority of university, school and library officials to stop them from openly carrying guns in those areas.
Green’s bill would allow concealed pistol license holders to carry concealed weapons in those places, but ban open carry. Private owners would retain the right to ban weapons — concealed or openly carried — on their premises.
Green said it’s not entirely clear whether the right exists to openly carry firearms in churches. But he said if that right does exist, his bill would instead allow only concealed carry in churches, and then only if the pastor or church board consents to it.
Green said Tuesday he feels the bills will pass the full Senate. Both the Senate and House have passed similar legislation before. He expects the Senate to take up the bills before the end of the year.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation in 2012, but it’s not clear he would do so again if the bills pass the Legislature.
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