Lansing — The nation’s deadliest mass shooting has temporarily delayed Michigan Republican lawmakers’ plans to scrap concealed pistol training requirements and expand gun access, but top GOP leaders say the fight isn’t over.
Concealed carry permits need to be eliminated because they amount to an unfair “coat tax” costing legal gun owners money when a gun is hidden but not when it’s carried openly, Republican proponents say. But most Democrats and some Republicans say the plan risks more gun violence by not only ending concealed weapon permits, but removing currently required safety training.
Other bills allow concealed pistols in “gun free” zones, which include schools, day care centers, sports arenas, bars, hospitals, college dorms, casinos, stadiums and places of worship.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, has been ambivalent about the so-called “constitutional carry” package. But Meekhof says increased gun access legislation could advance when public furor subsides over the Oct. 1 country music concert massacre that killed 59 people and injured more than 500 others.
“It’s just an awkward time,” Meekhof said. “It seems like every time we get at a place where we can move some of these things, some sort of incident happens that gives people pause, so we’re gonna pause.”
House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, has said the shooting has not changed his support.
Legislative supporters rail against the $100 permit application and $115 renewal cost as an excessive fee that needs to be eliminated. People also have to pay for training classes to get a license that can cost from $70 to $150.
“As a former prosecutor, I have yet to see a situation where bad guys that want to do harm are actually going to abide by more gun laws,” Leonard said. “At the end of the day, I believe we need to get to the root of this problem. And that is why I have stayed so focused on dealing with our broken mental health system.”
But opponents said training is critical.
“If you have to wait for the time to be right, it almost sounds like you’re pulling one over on me,” said William Kucyk, co-owner of Action Impact Firearms & Training Center in Southfield, who argues the legislation is a bad idea.
“Waiting for the time to be right, well, what is that? If a guy’s filing for divorce, when is the time right?”
Kucyk spent 31 years in law enforcement in Oakland County, eventually becoming detective bureau commander and a SWAT team commander. His shop trains about 75 students a week who spend $69 to take an eight-hour concealed pistol license course in gun safety, law and shooting range time.
Law tweaked this year
Gov. Rick Snyder has not made known his position on the plan, but he might not be sympathetic. The Republican governor in 2015 vetoed legislation backed by the National Rife Association he said would have allowed potential domestic abusers to get concealed pistol licenses despite receiving an NRA endorsement during his second campaign for governor.
“We simply can’t and won’t take the chance of exposing domestic abuse victims to additional violence or intimidation,” Snyder said at the time.
This year, Snyder signed into law a bill that makes technical changes to state law dealing with concealed pistols. The tweaks include allowing an individual to file multiple concealed pistol license applications a year, and clearer rules about county clerks being prohibited from issuing permits until they hear from state police or a county sheriff that the individual in question does not have a felony and is in the country legally.
Other Republican gun bills that may gain traction include a bill backed by Meekhof that would allow people with concealed pistols to carry their guns hidden in schools and another that the Senate majority leader sponsored that would also expand gun access in some places where they are banned under state law.
Because of a quirk in state law, concealed pistol license holders can legally bring guns into schools — if they openly carry them. That’s something that Meekhof and other Republicans such as Sen. Mike Shirkey of Clarklake say they consider potentially disruptive for schools.
Shirkey said he thinks having people with guns in schools could help make kids safer.
“It’d be a big deterrent if the bad guys knew there were potentially people there able to defend themselves and their kids,” he said.
Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature have together introduced some 80 bills dealing with firearms either directly or indirectly, though most will go nowhere.
In September, House Republicans approved bills to pre-empt local governments from enacting gun rules stricter than state standards and reduce the current felony punishment for carrying a concealed pistol with an expired license to a $330 fine — instead of facing up to five years in prison. The bills await Senate action.
Law enforcement weighs in
Law enforcement in Michigan mostly opposes scrapping training requirements for concealed pistol licenses.
The Michigan State Police, the Michigan Sheriff’s Association and the Michigan Chiefs of Police Association all oppose any effort to eliminate gun training requirements for concealed pistol carriers.
“How are our communities going to be safer because of this? They’re not,” said Blaine Koops, executive director of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association.
“Rights have responsibility, and we can’t just dilute this whole concept. … For us not to be able to have the ability to do any type of background questioning or training or whatever, it just doesn’t make any sense for the safety of our public.”
Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, the Fraternal Order of Police and other law enforcement organizations and gun control advocates decry the plan as inevitably making Michigan residents less safe by letting more people tote hidden guns without basic knowledge of gun safety and gun laws.
Currently required training programs include information on state and federal gun laws, basic gun safety and safe gun storage information, and experience shooting in a firing range.
“I just think that while I certainly am a supporter of the Second Amendment, I do believe that some reasonable regulation of gun ownership is appropriate,” Napoleon said.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard has not taken a public position on the issue and did not return calls seeking comment. Macomb County Sheriff Mike Wickersham also did not return a call seeking comment.
Handgun training facilities and other gun right activists are in a tough spot about taking a public stance on concealed pistol training, said Mark Cortis, owner of the Wild West Academy in Royal Oak.
If they say the training requirement should be eliminated, gun safety trainers could get upset, Cortis said. If they say they’re against the legislation, ardent Second Amendment supporters could be up in arms, he said.
Cortis declined to say whether it was a good idea, but said that people who sign up for his classes are not usually well-versed in gun law and safety.
“I’ve never had anybody come through the door who didn’t need training, both in the correct application of the law (and gun safety), and I would say 99 out of 100 people have that all wrong,” he said.
Jerry Wrage, 75, who owns a gun training academy in Rochester Hills, was more emphatic.
“One bullet could change your life forever,” Wrage said. “No, it’s not a good idea.”