The right to bear arms: Bill challenges campus gun policy

A bill proposed in the Michigan Senate would challenge Michigan universities’ authority in campus gun policy by revising state law to allow citizens with concealed weapon licenses to carry in these no-carry zones after completing increased licensing requirements.

According to the Michigan legislature website, Senate Bill 59 sponsored by Senator Mike Green, would “allow an applicant for a concealed pistol license (CPL) or a licensee who was a certified firearms instructor or who completed additional training to seek an exemption from a prohibition against carrying a concealed pistol on certain premises (no-carry zones).”

Ryan Mitchell, communications director for Green’s office, stressed that the bill would provide exemption from prohibition only to citizens who have met increased licensing requirements.

“The bill does not change areas where concealed carry is prohibited,” Mitchell said. “What the bill does is create a ‘shall issue’ exemption to that prohibition only for licensees who get twice the amount of training as currently required.”

“Shall issue” is a term used in gun policy that means any applicant who meets all legal prerequisites will be granted a permit.

Mitchell said current state law permits people with CPLs to carry concealed on university campuses except in classrooms and dormitories, where they must carry openly. However, universities often establish policies that limit CPL holders from carrying on campus.

“Universities can currently prohibit students and staff from possessing firearms and enforce that policy through sanctions against academic or employment status, such as expulsion or termination,” Mitchell said. “This wouldn’t change under our bill. But they couldn’t turn those law-abiding folks into criminals by arresting them and seeking charges when all they were trying to do was protect themselves.”

Michael Boulus, executive director of the President’s Council, State Universities of Michigan said PCSUM opposes the legislation because allowing guns on campuses would endanger students.

“More guns on campus simply creates greater risk for students,” Boulus said.

Mitchell said students need to be able to protect themselves because universities aren’t capable of protecting them.

“Universities are lying to people if they’re trying to suggest that they can keep people safe,” Mitchell said.
“The facts speak for themselves. They’ve not been able to protect innocent lives in any number of cases.”

Eastern Michigan University, among many schools, does not allow besides campus police to carry firearms on campus. Its official policy states “no person shall possess or use any firearm or other dangerous weapon, concealed or otherwise, on property owned, leased or controlled by the university or otherwise in the course of university business.”

Mitchell said policies like these deny citizens of one of their constitutional rights.

“Universities are supposed to be champions of constitutional rights, like free speech and freedom of the press,” Mitchell said. “But it seems they’re picking and choosing here.”

Leigh Greden, EMU’s executive director of government and community relations, said EMU supports PCSUM’s position.

“We’ve heard from many students on this campus who feel that more guns on our campus would make them feel less safe, not more safe,” Greden said. “I’ve heard that message consistently in the two years I’ve been here.”

Bob Heighes, interim chief of police for the EMU Police Department, said he supports EMU’s policy because “there are many reasons why it would be dangerous to have guns on campus.”

Furthermore, Heighes said allowing guns on campus would hinder the Police Department’s ability to ensure campus safety.

“We have students and non-students who engage in fights over the way someone looks at them, speaks to them, property ownership, relationship disagreements, all the time,” Heighes said. “Now throw a gun into the mix during any one of these interactions and we are dealing with a more dangerous and bigger problem for the officers responding to the call.”

Lavone Perkins, a senior at EMU majoring in social work, has a CPL and took part in Students for Concealed Carry’s national Empty Holster Protest between April 2 and April 6. She said she takes responsibility for her own safety and questioned whether the police department was capable of protecting her.

“A violent crime only takes minutes, if not seconds, to commit,” Perkins said. “The police officers are simply historians at that point. They’re not protecting me. They show up to record what has already happened.”

Jason Hart, a sophomore at EMU majoring in psychology and a campus leader for SCC at EMU, stressed that gun prohibitive policies do not necessarily keep guns off of campus.

“The people who are going to break the laws are going to do them regardless of what the policy is,” Hart said. “They’re not offended by ‘pistol-free’ signs. It’s an open invitation for those who want to break the law, to know that they can do so uncontested on campus.”

Perkins said, “It’s the law-abiding citizens such as myself who leave their firearms at home.”

“The people who intend to do harm don’t care what the laws are,” Perkins said. “Those are the individuals who are truly dangerous and whom I want to protect myself from.”

Representative David Rutledge, who serves the 54th District which includes EMU, and who formerly sat on the Board of Trustees for Washtenaw Community College, said he was “strongly opposed” to the bill in its current form because he believes it could “jeopardize the safety of university students, faculty, staff and the
community as a whole.”

“A college campus is no place for firearms,” Rutledge said. “The state should not be hindering universities or community colleges from policies that will keep kids safe. At a time when we as a society should be working to reduce gun violence and the proliferation of guns in our communities, this bill would do neither.”

Greden said the bill could be improved by allowing each university to decide its own policy.

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