House to explore arming teachers, ‘red flag’ laws

In this Thursday, Feb 22, 2018, photo, the National Rifle Association was enthusiastically vilified at a rally supporting new gun control legislation outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. Michigan legislators and the governorÕs office are roiling over two gun-control measures: arming trained teachers and removing guns from individuals with mental health symptoms. (Dale G.Young/Detroit News via AP)

By ALICE YIN

Associated Press

LANSING — Michigan legislators and the governor’s office are roiling over two gun-control measures: arming trained teachers and removing guns from individuals with mental health symptoms.

State capitols across America are revisiting gun legislation after the deadliest U.S. school shooting in the last five years ripped through Parkland, Florida. In Lansing, one bill under development would permit teachers and staff to carry firearms inside schools, an idea seeing national resurgence since President Donald Trump floated support in the wake of the Florida tragedy.

Other suggestions percolating in the Republican-controlled Legislature touch upon mental health, an ongoing theme in the nation’s recent gun-control conversations, though Lansing is divided on how to restrict firearms from individuals with mental illnesses. An idea already introduced in current bills — and endorsed by the governor — is “red flag” legislation to enact a procedure for temporarily confiscating guns from individuals in a threatening mental health crisis.

Michigan’s emerging legislation on school security would exempt specially trained school personnel from the state’s concealed carry restrictions in pistol-free zones, said Rep. Jim Runestad, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Current law prohibits concealed carry inside designated gun-free zones, including schools.

“My impetus is I have a 16-year-old daughter in public school,” the White Lake Republican said. “There is nothing standing in the way of that shooter and the time lag for the police.”

The governor’s office and House leadership have not publicly commented on the proposal. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, Tanya Baker, said he will carefully consider any bill reaching his desk, while House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, said he is willing to have conversations on school safety but is “going to continue to stay focused on mental health.”

Senate leadership showed more enthusiasm for the idea. Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, a Republican from West Olive, said “at this point we could use any volunteers that would want to protect our kids.”

Runestad said vetting for interested teachers would be highly rigorous given that “there are many teachers I wouldn’t trust with a butter knife, let alone a pistol.” The upcoming bills would require selected staff members to undergo 80 hours of training, renewed every two years, though they would be paid for their time, he said. All firearms would be tucked away in a secure location, he said, such as a safe with a fingerprint lock.

“You can buy these for $100 at Costco,” Runestad said. “No one else can open them. It negates so much of what you hear about the objections.”

Rep. Brian Elder said as the husband of a teacher, the idea of most teachers electing to carry firearms isn’t realistic and he instead wants to see the House approve universal background checks.

“Nuns are not signing up to become Catholic school teachers in order to tote guns around,” the Bay City Democrat said.

Laws permitting armed staff personnel are in place in over 10 states. In Florida, legislators approved a similar bill this week despite protests from survivors of its recent shooting.

Snyder has mostly focused his public gun-control message on “red-flag” legislation. Baker, his deputy press secretary, said Snyder wants to explore the measure, which would legalize a procedure to remove guns from people determined to be too dangerous to possess them.

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