LANSING, MI — A Michigan Senate panel on Tuesday approved gun bills that would allow concealed carry instead of open carry in schools, moving ahead despite concerns from education officials who fear the proposal will do little to shield students from possible violence.
“Moving to a concealed carry system only hides the potential danger,” Don Wotruba of Michigan Association of School Boards said during committee testimony.
Michigan law currently prohibits permit holders from carrying concealed pistols in so-called gun-free zones, but it does not prevent them from openly carrying weapons in those same places.
Open carry gun owners have caused alarm and stoked fears in some Michigan schools, prompting local rules, legal fights and state legislation to modify existing rules.
Senate Bills 442 and 561 would essentially swap those existing rules, prohibiting open carry but allowing permit holders to seek an exemption to carry concealed weapons in schools, college dorms, sports stadiums and other regulated venues.
“We’re actually trying to do (schools) a favor,” sponsoring Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, said after the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee advanced his bill in a 4-1 vote that fell along party lines.
“We, as gun owners, have every right in the world to carry in gun-free zones, most of them, and so are we going to give that up? We’re taking a step back and saying we’ll cover them up if you guys are willing to do it, and they don’t even want that.”
Green, in his earlier committee testimony, argued that concealed pistol license holders are “among the most law-abiding” citizens in the state and country.
His comments were echoed by John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” a book that has become a central document for gun rights advocates since its first edition was published in 1998.
Lott argued that most “mass shootings” around the country have occurred in so-called gun-free zones, citing statistics that gun control proponents have challenged. He suggested gun-free zones only deter law-abiding citizens, not the criminals who perpetuate mass shootings.
“The sign won’t deter them,” said Lott. “If anything it serves as a magnet because they know it’s relatively easier to go and attack people who are unarmed there.”
His findings were questioned by Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, who pointed to a report from the Michael Bloomberg-backed Everytown For Gun Safety, which indicated that most recent mass shootings have taken place in private residences where people have the right to carry guns.
Statistics aside, a series of school administrators cited real-world experience as they testified against the bills, arguing that only trained law enforcement personnel should be able to carry firearms inside school buildings, where the presence of a gun can cause fear and panic.
“Please do not have our school campuses compromised through the carry of concealed weapons,” said Jeanice Swift, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, which has moved to ban guns and recently won one round in an ongoing legal battle.
Sault Ste. Marie Area Public Schools Tim Hall, showing lawmakers his concealed pistol permit, said he is a supporter of gun rights but does not think anyone beyond law enforcement should be carrying them in schools.
“The fear that would overtake a school, particularly with young kids, if someone knew there was a gun in there, is incalculable,” he said. “…I can guarantee you that 100 percent of the time that school’s going to be turned upside down, and most cases, in our district in particular, we’re going to go to a lockdown.”
Rockford Superintendent Michael Shibler noted that his district has used bond funding to build security vestibules at the entrance of school buildings, and he said that’s as far as anyone with a gun should be able to go.
Only one school administrator — Clio superintendent Fletcher Spears III — testified in support of the legislation.
“People have a right to keep and bear arms. Concealed carry affords the right and limits the distraction (of open carry),” Spears told lawmakers.
The legislation now heads to the full Senate, where it has a supporter in Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, but its ultimate fate remains uncertain.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a similar proposal in 2012, suggesting that public schools, day care centers and hospitals should have the ability to prohibit concealed weapons if they choose.
Gun rights groups have some concerns with the legislation — open carry advocates are especially wary of proposed penalties for accidentally exposing a concealed weapon — but agreed with Lott’s argument that more guns could actually reduce crime.
Steven Dulan of Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners reiterated his long-running claim that gun-free zones are actually “mass murder empowerment zones” where lawbreakers can wreak havoc.
Gun control advocates also had a large presence at Tuesday’s hearing, as evidenced by their testimony and numerous “Moms Demand Action” t-shirts in the crowd.
“My kids have a right to feel safe at school, and so do their teachers and everyone who is part of the educational community,” Kristen Moore, leader of the Michigan Chapter of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement.