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Lapeer — One day after a gunman killed nine people in a shooting rampage at an Oregon community college, the issue of gun control once a hotly debate topic at a Lapeer County candidates forum to fill an open seat in the Michigan House.

Former Rep. Todd Courser, the Lapeer Republican who resigned last month to avoid expulsion, got the first crack at answering a question about gun control in light of Thursday’s deadly classroom shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore.

Courser said the lack of students carrying concealed weapons left them defenseless to a handgun-wielding 26-year-old shooter, Chris Harper Mercer, who died in a shootout with police.

“I’m the guy who believes gun-free zones are the problem, they’re not the solution,” Courser said. “You need to end handgun registration. You need to fall back on the Constitution – (that) is our right to carry.”

Courser and ten other Republicans vying for his former 82nd District House seat and one Democratic candidate, Margaret Guerrero DeLuca, took turns answering questions for three hours Friday night at a candidates forum sponsored by the Lapeer County Tea Party.

The forum took place three weeks after Courser resigned his seat to avoid being expelled by the Republican-controlled House for misconduct related to his extramarital affair with former Rep. Cindy Gamrat, who was expelled. A week after leaving office, Courser filed to run in the Nov. 3 special primary his resignation forced.

The local tea party group held its candidates forum at the Lapeer County Sportman’s Club before a packed crowd of more than 200 potential voters packed into the gun club’s social hall, which duals as an indoor archery range.

The moderator’s question about gun rights elicited some of the more emotional responses during the three-hour forum.

“People kill people. Guns don’t kill people,” said Allan Landosky, a Republican candidate from Lapeer. “A spray bottle of gasoline could do almost the same amount of damage.”

“What we really need to do is understand how these elements of society can get high-powered weapons, can be amunition, can get anything like that,” Landosky added. “... By the way, I said try and understand. I didn’t say pass more legislation.”

Several Republican candidates expressed support for legislation sponsored by state Sen. Mike Green to allow concealed pistol permitholders to carry their weapon in schools, churches, bars, sporting stadiums and other traditionally “gun-free zones” if they get additional training.

“The reason why these terrible shootings keep happening is that colleges and schools is because often they are gun-free zones and they know no one is going to shoot back at them,” said Jake Davison, a former Republican legislative aide and consultant running for the seat.

James Dewilde of Lapeer veered away from his fellow Republicans’ vocal support for the Second Amendment by voicing support for closing loopholes that allow felons and the mentally ill to purchase handguns from private individuals at gunshows and on the Internet without a background check.

“Let’s make sure if we’re selling someone a gun, that we’re not selling it to a loony toon,” Dewilde said. “Let’s make sure that we’re not selling it a domestic abuser, or a criminal. I’ve owned guns all of my life, but responsible gun ownership is what we have to focus on.”

Gary Howell, a retired attorney from North Branch, said he continuing debate over gun control is a “rural verses urban” divide in America.

“Growing up on a farm and raising my son and my grandchildren on farms, we’re used to guns. We have them for protection, for hunting, lots of good purposes,” Howell said. “In the urban world, they see guns as a criminal matter. ... In Lapeer County, I think we have all of the guns that we need. We just need to get them out of the hands of the nutcases.”

DeLuca, the lone Democratic candidate who attended the forum, sought to defuse the issue of gun rights being the mantle of Republicans.

“I support the Second Amendment. I’m married to a police officer,” said DeLuca, a former Imlay City mayor. “We have many guns in our home. I probably have the most guns in my home than everybody on this panel.”

The other Republicans vying for the GOP nomination in the 82nd District are Russell Adams of Lapeer, Rick Guerrero Jr. of Imlay City, Lapeer County Commissioner Ian Kempf of Imlay City, Jan Peabody of Lapeer, Sharna Cramer Smith of Attica and Chris Tuski of Lapeer.

DeLuca, who lost the 2014 general election to Courser, has two Democratic opponents who did not attend the forum Friday. They are R.D. Bohm of Dryden and Eric Johnson of Lapeer.

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood

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