Lawmakers must close the open-carry loopholes for gun-free zones

Michigan lawmakers must act swiftly to ban the open carrying of firearms in gun-free zones, before efforts by brazen open carry advocates go any further.

Guns do not belong in sensitive places. Schools, colleges, day cares, churches, hospitals, courts, entertainment and sports venues, and taverns are all deemed gun-free zones by Michigan law, and the U.S. Supreme Court has noted the right of states to set these restrictions. However, Michigan’s “shall issue” law of 2001 created a loophole effectively allowing concealed pistol license holders to openly carry guns in these areas.

A small but increasingly vocal group of gun owners have begun exploiting this loophole to seek confrontations in gun-free zones in an attempt to “desensitize” the public. These open carry advocates would like to live in a world where it’s normal and accepted for people to openly carry guns anywhere and everywhere.

However, it’s not normal to see civilians openly carrying guns in public, nor do we hope it will ever be. Given the abhorrent number of mass shootings in our country, it is natural for people to feel tense or even scared and call the police when they see an ordinary citizen openly carrying a gun.

Now open carry advocates are exposing children to these feelings of insecurity and fear, in the one place they should feel absolutely safe – their schools. Most recently, an uproar ensued after a man attended an Ann Arbor school concert with a holstered gun on his hip. Similar incidents have occurred in Clio, Madison Heights and elsewhere.

Tactics by open carry provocateurs are disruptive to the school environment, as schools go on lockdown until authorities can determine the intentions and legal standing of the person carrying the gun. This causes students and staff undue stress and anxiety and takes away from valuable learning time.

We commend the Ann Arbor and Clio school districts for addressing this matter seriously and putting protocols in place to remove anyone possessing a dangerous weapon from school grounds. But it shouldn’t be the responsibility of individual districts to devise ways to keep guns out of schools. It’s already the law and it’s high time for legislators to do their job and close the loophole.

A bill being drafted by state Sen. Mike Green that would allow CPL holders to carry a concealed weapon in gun-free zones is not the solution, unless it allowed public places to exempt themselves. A survey of Michigan voters in 2012 found that a majority strongly oppose allowing concealed guns in schools and other sensitive areas.

Some gun advocates argue that they can protect the public from a “bad guy with a gun.” This thinking is fanciful at best and outright dangerous at worst. Gun owners must go through a mere eight hours of training to obtain a CPL. They are not required to be trained to handle active shooter situations, which is extraordinarily difficult even for highly trained police officers.

Just as troubling, CPL holders could inadvertently leave their weapons unattended in a gun-free zone, as evidenced recently when a Macomb County assistant prosecutor left his jacket, containing his pistol, in the bathroom of his kids’ elementary school. And finally, the risk of an accidental shooting by a “good guy with a gun” is as real as is the threat of a school shooter.

Restrictions on open carry would not, despite any claims to the contrary, be an assault on gun owners’ Second Amendment rights. In a 2008 ruling, the Supreme Court noted the government is allowed to restrict the carrying of firearms in “sensitive” places like schools and government buildings. In that ruling, which the court reaffirmed and broadened to include state governments in 2010, the court held that the Second Amendment “is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Indeed, many private employers ban weapons in their workplaces.

It is time for our elected officials to end the unnecessary distractions created by fringe activists hoping to provoke civil unrest. The matter will go unresolved until Lansing acts. Banning all firearms in sensitive places would keep guns out of our schools, put an end to an overwrought debate and still preserve the constitutional rights of all of their constituents.

– The MLive Media Group