Michigan universities defend bans on concealed guns
Inside the administration building on Lake Superior State University’s campus is a room with more than 100 student-owned guns.
There are 83 shotguns, 41 rifles and eight pistols. There are also 49 bows and one crossbow.
Among the owners is Flushing junior Garth Magiera, who keeps three rifles and a bow on campus for when he wants to go hunting in the area around Sault Ste. Marie. Magiera does not have a license to carry a concealed weapon, and couldn’t carry one on campus even if he did because LSSU policy forbids it.
The president of the Lake State chapter of Students for Concealed Carry hopes one day that students will be able to have guns on campus for whatever reason they choose.
“Students should be able to bring their guns to (campus) to go hunting ... and to protect themselves no matter where they are,” said Magiera, 20. “A lot of arguments we hear over and over is that students are just drunk college kids, and they are not responsible. To be lumped into a stereotype is not fair.”
As mass shootings fuel a national dialogue about guns, Michigan is debating the issue. A bill pending in the Legislature would allow those with concealed pistol licenses to apply for a waiver to carry in places now banned, such as churches, bars, day care centers, sports arenas, schools, dorms and college classrooms.
Many college campuses provide places for students who are hunters or training for a career in public safety to store firearms. But university leaders say concealed firearms are a different issue and the combination of stress, alcohol, varied maturity levels and suicide risks make college campuses the wrong place for concealed weapons.
Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, testified before the state Senate Judiciary Committee this month against the proposed legislation on behalf of the state’s 15 public universities. The Republican-led committee approved the bill on a party-line vote.
“It’s bad public policy,” Hurley said. “The vast majority of the education officials are strongly against of any type of weapons on school grounds or college campuses. The prevalence of guns are not helpful in maintaining an environment that is conducive to learning and safety.”
Many public safety leaders have concerns too. Oakland University Police Chief Mark Gordon said students are always losing items such as laptops and cellphones in residence halls.
“What kind of fear factor would that introduce to the population if a gun was lost?” Gordon said. “Guns on campus are a bad idea.”
But some students, and other firearm proponents, argue that training and a background check are required to get a concealed carry license. They also say they are responsible gun owners and don’t fit the profile of shooters who committed mass killings such as the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 or the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon this month.
“I don’t think people carrying on campus would increase the likelihood of campus shootings,” said Logan Archibald, a Fowlerville resident attending LSSU. “There’s bad people who want to do harmful things to others. It’s kind of the way some people are wired, I guess.”
College campuses have been thrust into the issue with a lawsuit against the University of Michigan by a resident who argues the Ann Arbor school illegally denied him a waiver to open carry on campus.
The suit was filed in June by Joshua Wade, 23, of Ann Arbor, who has a concealed carry license and packs a pistol identical to one carried by Navy SEAL special warfare operators. Wade isn’t a UM student.
The lawsuit argues that UM’s ban against guns on campus conflicts with state law and the U.S. Constitution.
“Michigan law is clear: What my client was doing was lawful,” said Steven Dulan, Wade’s attorney. “Why does the university think they can make up their own laws?”
Wade believes there’s a reason this dialogue around guns is happening in Michigan.
“People are having this realization: Why do we see school shootings, shootings in theaters?” Wade said. “In traditional gun-free zones, that doesn’t stop the criminal. It does stop the law-abiding — it does stop them from protecting themselves.”
Universities say they are waiting to see what happens with the lawsuit and the proposed legislation, but they don’t want to see concealed firearms be allowed on their campuses.
“We believe we have the right to regulate weapons on campus to ensure the safety of students, faculty, staff, patients, health care providers and hundreds of thousands of visitors, and to foster a supportive learning environment where students and faculty can feel free to explore challenging topics without fear of violence,” said Rick Fitzgerald, UM spokesman.
Added Wayne State University spokesman Matt Lockwood: “We do not think allowing people to carry guns on campus will improve safety, and it could create unnecessary anxiety.”