Cook: Schools cannot be open carry zones
Imagine walking into your child’s elementary school and seeing someone with a pistol strapped to his belt. Not a police officer or school security employee, just a citizen. Parents at Edgerton Elementary in Clio didn’t have to imagine it, they saw it.
You may think, “that can’t be legal.” But it is. And, a recent Genesee County Circuit Court decision affirms the legal right of Michigan citizens with a concealed pistol license to openly carry firearms in Michigan public schools.
In response to this court decision, you may also think, “there ought to be a law against that.” The MEA and the public school employees we represent agree.
The decision was the result of a Clio parent’s court challenge to Clio Area Schools’ denial of his right to openly carry his pistol inside the elementary school when he came to pick up his daughter. The circuit judge based his ruling on a 2012 Michigan Court of Appeals decision which held that Lansing Public Libraries cannot prohibit citizens from openly carrying guns onto library property.
In the Clio case, the district argued that state law allows school districts to enact policies to safeguard students. Schools already prohibit students from bringing toy guns onto school property. The Clio school board felt that banning open carry of real firearms was certainly within their right to protect their students. The judge disagreed. In his decision, he ruled that the ban intruded upon the lawmaking authority of the state, which created laws to allow open carry of firearms on school grounds.
Michigan legislators have repeatedly relaxed restrictions on gun owners over the last several years. However some legislators, including state Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing, feel they have gone too far. Schor is the sponsor of House Bill 4261, which would ban openly carrying firearms in schools, saying, “we want to make sure our youth are not encountering guns in schools. It’s not part of the educational process.” Schor, a father of two and a gun owner, expressed his fear that “allowing openly-armed civilians to roam the halls of our schools is a recipe for disaster.”
The recent court decision, allowing those with a concealed pistol license to openly carry, presents problems for both school employees and students. School employees do not know if someone openly carrying a firearm into the school building has a concealed carry permit, or what their intentions are. When they see someone entering the building with a firearm, their training and instincts tell them to protect their students by getting them out of the building or locking down their classrooms. Both school employees and school administrators support passage of legislation banning open carry of firearms in public schools.
It should be clear that with tragedies involving mass shootings in schools across the country, schools are not a place for gun owners to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights. The only people who should be allowed to carry firearms in public schools are police officers and school security personnel who are trained in the use of weapons for school safety.
Allowing guns to be openly carried in public schools only exacerbates the fear and uncertainty of both staff and students and does not provide students with the safe environment they need to focus on learning and exploring. Enacting legislation banning guns in public schools would help provide that safe learning environment.
Republicans and Democrats should agree that House Bill 4261 is a sensible fix to a dangerous loophole.
Steven Cook is president of the Michigan Education Association.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.