Michigan lawmakers prep burst of campaign fundraisers, spending for Wednesday session

Open-carry loophole sparks debate in Mich. legislature

Derek Draplin
The Detroit News

The loophole in Michigan law that allows concealed-weapon permit holders to open carry in "gun-free" zones isn't likely to be closed any time soon.

That's because two state lawmakers — one a Republican and one a Democrat — are proposing drastically different approaches to addressing the issue.

State Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, has introduced a bill to ban all firearms in "gun-free" zones such as schools, bars and sports arenas. His legislation would even expand the zones to include public libraries.

But Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, has a different plan. He is developing legislation to make open-carry in gun-free zones illegal to avoid public panic, while making concealed-carry legal if the permit holder has more extensive training.

The differences come amid concern about recent incidents in which open-carry advocates brought guns to high schools in Ann Arbor and Madison Heights.

Michigan's gun-free zone law, enacted in 2001, specifies only that concealed carrying is unlawful in schools, day care centers, bars, religious institutions, hospitals, colleges and universities. It does not address open carry.

Schor and Green agree the loophole needs to be addressed, and said their proposals are not in response to the most recent incidents.

Schor said his bill was originally introduced two years ago and reintroduced a few weeks ago. It was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

"These are very sensitive areas," Schor said, referring to the gun-free zones. "My bill says a 'gun-free zone' should be a 'gun-free zone.'"

Green said his legislation will addresses the concern that visible guns in "gun-free" zones might cause panic, while protecting the rights of concealed-weapon permit holders to remain armed.

"I believe this situation needs to be addressed in a manner that best preserves the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves," Green said in an email, noting he opposes Schor's bill.

Green sponsored a bill in 2012 that would have allowed concealed carry but banned open carrying in gun-free zones; Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed it in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 26 adults and children were gunned down. Green's new bill will look similar, although its language has yet to be drafted.

A spokesman for Snyder told The Detroit News that the governor might support a bill like Green's, if schools have the option of declaring themselves entirely gun-free.

"In general, the governor opposes open carry in schools but might support concealed carry in schools if the schools have the ability to opt out," spokesman Dave Murray said.

Two recent incidents involving guns in gun-free zones drew headlines. Lamphere High School in Madison Heights was put on lockdown on March 4 when open-carry activist Shawn Nixon, 39, of Royal Oak marched by school grounds with a rifle on his shoulder and a sidearm, being shadowed by police.

At an Ann Arbor Pioneer High School choir concert on March 5, Jeffrey Wade, whose sister was performing, openly wore a pistol on his hip and drew the concern of audience members despite being cleared by police.

Phil Hofmeister, president of Michigan Open Carry, Inc., a Lansing-based organization that advocates for open carry rights, said his organization is open to Green's proposition, but it's too early for certainty.

"We wouldn't necessarily be opposed to it," he said. "We are looking forward to what Senator Green proposes."

Hofmeister also opposed Schor's plan, predicting it would be "dead on arrival" if it came to a vote.

"Our problem obviously is gun-free zones are killing zones," he said. "Law-abiding citizens can't defend themselves in these areas."

Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Twp., who heads the House Judiciary Committee, said he's not sure Schor's bill "would make anything safer." He said it's not likely the bill will make it to the House floor.

"If there's a parent (at a school) lawfully carrying openly and a shooter comes in, the parent can defend everyone there," he said. "This bill makes that unlawful."

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a national nonprofit organization with a chapter in Ann Arbor, said in a statement it supported Schor's bill to keep all guns out of gun-free zones.

"Enacting this legislation will keep our children safe and avoid the stress, terror, and disruption of school lockdown drills caused by open carry incidents that interfere with the rights of children, parents and educators to feel safe at school," the statement said.

The Police Officers Association of Michigan supports legal concealed carry in gun-free zones, but also thinks the loophole in the current law should be closed.

"If you're properly trained and have a background check, then you should be allowed to concealed carry," said Kenneth E. Grabowski, legislative director of POAM. He also said his organization condemns the actions of the open-carry advocates.

ddraplin@detroitnews.com