Michigan Senate Panel OKs concealed guns in gun-free zones

Local superintendents have mixed reactions

BIG RAPIDS — A topic that has always been on the minds of school administrators is making it’s way through the Michigan Senate after a committee approved a bill that would allow Certified Pistol Licence holders to carry concealed guns in schools.

Currently, under Michigan law, people who have a CPL can openly carry in schools, but are not allowed to conceal weapons in gun-free zones including schools, child care centers, sports arenas, large concert halls, bars, places of worship, hospitals, dorms and college classrooms.

The bill would allow people with a CPL to apply for an exemption to carry their concealed weapon into areas that are off limits, but prohibit them from openly carrying a pistol in gun-free zones.

“Yes, today people with CPL’s can openly carry in schools, but what happens in our district when that happens?” asked Curtis Finch, superintendent of the Mecosta Osceola Intermediate School District. “Automatic lock down because you don’t know if that person is a good guy or a bad guy.”

According to Finch, the bill is meant as a compromise to the current law and those who do not approve of guns in schools.

“It’s a lose-lose situation, there is no right answer to the debate,” he said. “Most administrators would say guns don’t belong in schools, but the same administrators would say legislature should give schools an armed guard at the front door. Someone who is trained, such as a police officer.”

According to section 750.234d of the Michigan Penal Code, people hired as security guards, peace officers, people who possess firearms with the permission of the owner and people with valid concealed pistol licenses issued by any state may open carry at these locations.

Most school districts do not have a trained professional in the building, so Finch believes the next best thing is passing this bill.

“I’m arguing this bill is better than what we have now,” Finch said. “Open carry in schools does not work because the secretary pushes the red button as soon as she sees a gun. Allowing the average citizen the right to conceal carry in schools makes superintendents a little nervous, but it’s the lesser of two evils.”

Roger Cole, superintendent of Morley Stanwood Community Schools, has written to state Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac, encouraging them to vote yes on the bill.

“The idea that more guns in schools is dangerous is something I don’t agree with,” he said. “If you look at the incidents that have occurred, what stopped the crazy shooter is other guns.”

Cole also believes that open carry in schools is ineffective because the gun causes a disruption no matter if the carrier is a good or bad person.

“I have no way to protect the children in this school besides the stapler on my desk, and that’s not going to do much,” he said. “If someone comes into my school who wants to kill people, I don’t know how I would live with myself hearing screams down the halls and gun shots. I could live with myself better if I could defend the kids in the building.”

After learning about previous mass shootings in schools around America, Cole believes banning guns is no way to protect his students.

“How effective were the gun-free zone signs at the school in Oregon?” he asked.

According to Cole, if he could make such a decision, he would appoint a few individuals in the district to become CPL certified and specially trained to protect students. These people would be unknown except by the superintendent and board members and their identify would not be subject to a Freedom of Information Act request.

On the other hand, some local superintendents would rather see no guns in schools at all.

The idea of not knowing who has a gun is what scares Pam Duffy, superintendent of Crossroads Charter Academy, far away from supporting the bill.

“A police officer with a gun is one thing, but how do I know someone who comes in carrying a weapon is going to use it or not. There are so many other ways to protect our school.”

Duffy believes the best way to protect students is being smart.

“Practice lock downs, teach staff how to protect the students, push desks against the doors and hide,” she said. “Schools are no place for guns.”

Similarly Howard Hyde, superintendent of Evart Public Schools sees no reason guns should be in schools.

“Concealed weapons is definitely an improvement from open carry, but I’m always leery,” he said. “If I had the choice, the only people allowed with guns in the schools would be police officers.”

Although Hyde does not support guns in schools, he does support the right for citizens to own a gun.

“Just because I don’t want guns in schools doesn’t mean I don’t like guns,” he said. “I’m not anti-gun. I have a gun. I just don’t want them in schools.”