Lansing — Any legal firearm owner could carry a concealed gun without a permit or mandatory training under a controversial plan the Michigan House approved Wednesday.
The House passed the four-bill package in a series of votes mostly along party lines that prompted spirited debate. Supporters said it would extend constitutional rights to gun owners, while opponents argued it would endanger public safety without current rules required under the state’s 17-year-old concealed carry law.
Proponents argue that the legislation protects and upholds Second Amendment rights and scraps what they say amounts to a coat tax: a $100 permit application fee, a fingerprint fee and another $115 every four years to renew the license. Required gun training classes can also cost hundreds of dollars, a barrier to exercising a freedom enshrined in the state and federal constitutions, gun advocates said.
During the floor debate, Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, pointed to a copy of the constitution and said it was each law-abiding resident’s permit to carry a concealed weapon in Michigan.
“Criminals do not obey the law. Criminals don’t obey the gun laws we have now. And criminals won’t obey the new gun laws we pass. That is why they’re called criminals,” Chatfield said.
“I wholeheartedly believe allowing law-abiding citizens to have the same freedoms that criminals already do in this state will make our communities safer,” he said.
But Democratic opponents countered the legislation would endanger communities by scrapping a gun safety training requirement to carry concealed pistols. Under current law, Michigan residents must complete a gun safety class to carry a gun without a permit, but the legislation eliminates the training requirement.
Democrats said the bills would allow misdemeanor offenders, including some sexual offenders such as stalkers, to carry concealed pistols. Under current law, misdemeanor offenders can’t get a concealed pistol license but can still openly carry and own weapons.
The four-bill package still would bar felons from owning firearms and carrying concealed weapons.
“These changes are dangerous for our law enforcement and dangerous for our families,” said Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Ann Arbor.
“This is as much a coat tax as a fee for a marriage license is a walking-down-the-aisle tax,” said Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo. “If you want the responsibility of carrying concealed, you intentionally get the permit. And getting a permit’s a good thing.”
Gun rights activists disputed critics’ claims about safety, saying the government has no place mandating responsible gun ownership under the constitution. That’s the responsibility of individual gun owners, they said.
“Responsibility cannot be legislated in a free society,” said Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, who voted for the four bills.
The original Republican-backed concealed carry law passed in 2000 and sparked fears by opponents of a spike in shootings — something that did not happen. At that time, supporters said restrictions such as completing training and getting a permit would be prudent safeguards.
But the new package was given a green light by House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, who argued that current permit requirements “may be outdated” because the state constitution doesn’t require any permit to openly carry firearms.
Two bills were approved in 59-49 votes, while the other two bills passed 60-48 and 61-47. The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration after a similar plan last year failed to garner enough support.
Michigan law enforcement officials are generally opposed to the legislation, said Howell Chief of Police George Basar, legislative committee chairman for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
The bills would arguably make law enforcement and residents less safe because they would allow anyone to begin carrying concealed weapons without training about the laws regulating guns or without knowing anything about gun safety, Basar said.
“It could be potentially devastating,” he said. “Someone needs to know the limits and the responsibilities and the bounds in which they can use a weapon in that capacity for a civilian.”