While Michigan legislators are schmoozing over the course of their 12 week-long summer break, after yet another session of mostly goofy and ineffectual lawmaking, maybe one of them, between fundraisers of course, could possibly consider moving forward with legislation to close the loophole that allows open carry in public schools. Admittedly, a highly unlikely occurrence, considering the GOP majority is interested in one thing, and one thing only — corporate dollars with which to line their war chests.
Michigan law provides for few gun-free zones: banks, churches, courts, theaters, sports arenas, daycare centers, hospitals, and liquor stores. Concealed carry permit holders are also not permitted to have a concealed weapon in those places, but through a twist of legislative idiocy they are allowed to open carry there, in addition to schools, college campuses, dormitories, casinos, and bars.
The Ugly Side of Open Carry
Open carry is a hot button political issue across the nation, especially in light of the recent Bundy ranch-inspired puffery among Second Amendment activists. When advocates started carrying weapons into places a sane person might find inappropriate, the NRA at first condemned the practice, then under pressure from open carry groups, they quietly tip-toed back from their criticism.
This kind of thing is just the ticket to get the stupid juices flowing among those that love their guns, but haven’t quite read the Second Amendment in its entirety — and recent reports indicate that some certainly have failed to make it as far as the Fourteenth Amendment too.
A few days ago, racially-motivated open carry activists in an Ohio community participated in what they believed was an exercise of their constitutional right to bear arms, but instead just terrorized the neighborhood. The Raw Story reports:
Police arrested one of four people who walked through a Cincinnati neighborhood while openly carrying AR-15 rifles and repeatedly using racial slurs and profanity.
One of two men in the group, which included two women, filmed their open carry rally in the East Price Hill neighborhood, where they walked past District 3 police headquarters and marveled that they were exercising their constitutional rights.
“Broad day, you see this? Walking down the street with a AR-15,” says the man filming the demonstration, who police later identified as Jesse Deboard.
Deboard posted the “rally” on You Tube, a video which was liberally laced with racial obscenities — not to be repeated here. He was subsequently arrested for “menacing by stalking”, and remains behind bars on a $25,000 bond.
Was this incident an anomaly? Sadly, no.
In fact, a documentary film titled Welcome to Leith is in the works about a similar group of white supremacist, open carry advocates that have waged an organized campaign of terror on the small community of Leith, North Dakota. The extremists plotted to take over the town, which was nearly abandoned by 2012. They have since used open carry intimidation against the few remaining residents, especially targeting one inter-racial couple.
The group Open Carry Michigan, thankfully has the occasional moment of sanity, as found in their support of legislation designed to hone-in on the definition of “brandish” to include the intent to intimidate, but they aren’t budging on open carry in Michigan’s public schools. Yet, the Michigan Open Carry website currently lists K-12 laws as “Not Yet Determined”.
Last year, Rep. Andy Schor (D-68) introduced HB 4104 and 4105, bills now stalled in committee, meant to close the open carry loophole. The legislation was inspired by open carry advocates intimidating local libraries with weapon displays. Open carry activists are absolutists though, and refuse to recognize sensible restrictions. MLive reported the following:
Phillip Hofmeister, the president of Michigan Open Carry, a group that advocates for the open carry of firearms, said after the bill was introduced that the state law should not be changed.
“I think people need to have a way to protect themselves wherever they go, and because of current pistol-free zones, it’s the only way people can protect themselves in some places,” Hofmeister said.
A position reflected in the national Open Carry motto: That attitude doesn’t sit well with school administrators, even in gun-loving Georgia where conservative lawmakers recently granted teachers the right to carry weapons. The law goes into effect July 1st, but so far there are no takers, and school administrators are upset that they’ve been dragged onto the Second Amendment battleground. Georgia is among ten states that passed guns-in-schools laws in the wake of the Newtown shootings. Michigan lawmakers passed a similar bill — on the day of the Sandy Hook massacre, but Gov. Snyder wisely vetoed the measure.
Republicans Shoot for the Moon
Instead of closing the open carry loophole, Republican lawmakers are pushing for more guns in Michigan schools. In response to school shootings, Tea Party lawmaker Rep. Greg MacMaster (R-105) introduced HB-4098, a bill that would permit school administrators the option to authorize the arming of teachers. A twin bill was introduced by Sen. Michael Green (R-31). SB-112 would similarly allow teachers to carry weapons. Green then upped the ante with SB-213, to allow guns in schools, and to additionally repeal restrictions altogether in certain specified gun free zones. All of these bills remain stalled in committee. None of them address liability issues, which would be near the top of any school administration’s list of concerns.
Policy Turmoil in Schools
As Democracy Tree recently reported, Traverse City Area Public Schools are struggling with the problem of how to react to open carry activism. They have publicly wavered in recent policy-making on the subject. The district has now tentatively settled on a policy to lock-down a school if an individual enters the building with a weapon. They reached an agreement with local law enforcement to have an officer remain with the armed individual until they leave the building.
It’s time for K-12 public school boards and administrators to exercise the level of authority they already possess in terms of permitting access to school facilities. First, visitors must provide a legitimate reason to be on school grounds. Second, they may not disrupt the school environment — this includes for example, a vigorous display of First Amendment rights which may infringe upon the educational environment — the kind of behavior that is protected in general public, but may be prohibited on school grounds. Traverse City officials toyed with making a case for disturbing the peace, which the county prosecutor rejected. But, if school officials have the authority to eject someone over free speech without citing a misdemeanor, then those powers should extend to open carry. Albeit, the police escort will probably do the trick too.
Sure, this is uncharted policy area for school leaders, but they must take the lead on this — be the front line protection for students, even if they have to force the issue with lawmakers by standing-up to open carry abusers by tossing them out on the street.