Michigan legislator's proposal would allow concealed guns on college campuses

GRAND VALLEY STATE UNIVERSITY -- Someone walks into your classroom with a gun and threatens to open fire. Your best defense is to try to escape the room or take out your cell phone and call for help, but under a proposed change to Michigan legislation, you may have another option.

Sparked by the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, Michigan Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, has proposed a change to Michigan law to allow permit holders to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.

Currently, the open carry of weapons is permitted anywhere, so long as the owner has a license to own the gun. Concealed carry is prohibited in churches, sports arenas, taverns, hospitals, casinos, day cares and college campuses including dorms and classrooms, according to the Michigan State Police.

Richardville would like to amend the law to remove the clause prohibiting the carry of concealed weapons on college campuses, saying it would make campuses safer if students were prepared to defend themselves.

On June 19, Michigan State University's Board of Trustees voted 7-1 to allow individuals with concealed weapons permits to carry a firearm through campus. Guns remain prohibited from MSU campus buildings.

Grand Valley State University President Thomas J. Haas, who leads the Presidents Council, said, "All 15 presidents and chancellors of Michigan's public universities favor the current law that bans firearms and weapons on campus."

If Michigan legislation is changed to permit concealed weapons in college classrooms and dorms, GVSU would still be able to define its own weapon policy through the student code,

"State legislation provides a baseline of safety," said Tom Butcher, University Counsel. "The university can add additional safety precautions."

Reid Smith, Michigan state director of Concealed Campus, a nation-wide organization in favor of carrying concealed weapons on campus, said there is no reason not to allow concealed weapons on college campuses as they have typically been a target of violent crime.

"Deterrence is a major factor," Smith said. "A gun-free zone disarms law-abiding citizens and gives criminals the power until police arrive."

The new legislation would make students and faculty the first defense during an attack without having to wait for police to step in, Smith said.

To obtain a concealed weapon permit, the certified gun owner must take an eight-hour class after which he or she must score at least 70 percent on a 50-question written test.

Part of the course includes a range test where participants, who must be 21 or older, have to hit a stationary, 25.5-inch by 11-inch target 4 yards away. To pass the test, the shooter must fire five rounds three times with 100 percent accuracy on at least two of the attempts.

Brian Johnson, professor of criminal justice at GVSU, does not believe Michigan's CCW courses provide sufficient training to justify concealed weapons in college classrooms and dorms.

"When you look at CCW training laws in the state of Michigan, they only require a few hours and civilians are not trained in the dynamic aspects of a gun fight," Johnson said. "Training is primarily around handgun safety and some accuracy in a static environment, therefore most civilians are not properly trained in how to respond to an active shooter and their actions could place other students and faculty in danger."

Brian Kingshott, associate professor of criminal justice at GVSU, said he believes the proposed change is a "recipe for disaster."

"I'm totally against the proposal because it isn't only about carrying a concealed weapon and going through a course," Kingshott, the adviser for the GV Shooting Club during its existence, said. "You need to have the ability to actually shoot someone. It's a great psychological barrier ... just because you take a course and can carry a gun doesn't mean you can use it."

Johnson added he does not believe a student carrying a concealed weapon could stop an armed assailant in the classroom. He cites research in police-related shootings that have found the probability of a police officer who is highly trained in the use of firearms in hitting or striking and stopping an armed assailant to be relatively low.

"These police officers have hours and hours of training often based on dynamic environments (moving and shooting at the same time) and not static (standing still and shooting at a non-moving target) where they are taught to move and shoot and to reload and to properly identify and stop threats," he said.

Brandon DeHaan, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety, also noted the difference in training between armed officers and citizens with concealed weapons permits.

"Individuals who have not been trained often lose motor skills in times of high stress and can hurt themselves," DeHaan said. "It is our duty for police officers to respond. We have a duty to protect and a duty to serve."

While DeHaan said DPS officers receive two blocks of ongoing firearm training on a yearly basis, renewal for a concealed weapon permit is required every four to five years through a written statement saying the owner has reviewed the safety training course and spent one hour on range practice within the previous six months.

"One of the biggest things they stress to you (during the class) is you can only use the firearm to protect yourself and your loved ones," Smith said.

Chris Hollis, the GVSU representative for Concealed Campus, has been teaching concealed permit classes for more than a year at the Silver Bullet Firearms Indoor Range and Training Center of Wyoming, Mich.

"People go through a lot to be able to carry in the first place," Hollis, a GVSU junior who spent five years in the Marine Corps, said. "Just because they're students doesn't mean they shouldn't be able to carry, especially in an area that has been targeted for violence."

Julie Yunker, director of the GVSU training center for the school of criminal justice, said she believes the safety of GVSU students would stay the same if Richardville's proposed legislation passed.

"I believe that having persons legally armed on campus (students and professors) could make a significant impact in a situation such as Virginia Tech or Northern Illinois University," Yunker said. "Again, it's a matter of circumstance, however ... My personal opinion is that legally owned and carried guns give people a greater sense of security and perhaps slightly deter those who would be tempted to make them their victims."

Concealed weapon permit holders are not given special protection from the law if they use their weapon for anything beside self-defense.

Smith has had a concealed weapon permit for one year and has never used his gun; though he said there were a couple times he was glad he was armed.

"From my experience, the reaction people have (to the proposed legislation) is to think college students are party animals with an 'act first, think later' mentality," Smith said. "Why would we give them guns? If the state thinks I'm responsible enough to carry a gun in a grocery store or movie theater, I don't become more dangerous on a campus."

In response to concerns about combining alcohol with carrying concealed weapons, Smith noted it is illegal to carry a gun with a blood alcohol level above 0.02. He compared restricting the concealed carry of weapons because of possible alcohol-related risks to taking away students' cars on the chance they would drink and drive.

Smith summed up the reasoning behind allowing concealed weapons on campus adding, "It's better to have (a gun) and not need it than need it and not have it."

However, Johnson said he is concerned by what affect the mere presence of firearms in the classroom will have on students and faculty, regardless of whether or not a shot is ever fired.

"A learning environment of fear and intimidation would create an unsettling atmosphere in the classroom for both students and faculty," Johnson said. "Knowing that there are armed individuals in a classroom could be very unsettling for many students causing psychological distress and altering the learning environment."

Darin Goens, Michigan's state liaison for the National Rifle Association, could not be reached as of press time but did voice the NRA's support for Senate Bill 747 in an Aug. 21 press release posted on Richardville's Senate Web site.

"The National Rifle Association doesn't believe in arbitrary boundaries, and we look forward to working with the Michigan Legislature to protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners everywhere," Goens said in the release. "If law-abiding gun owners go through the scrutiny, extensive background checks, training and all the legal channels to obtain a right-to-carry permit, they should be able to carry those firearms."

Sens. Cameron S. Brown, R-Fawn River Township; Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt; Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township; Michelle McManus, R-Lake Leelanau; Bruce Patterson, R-Canton; and Jim Barcia, D-Bay City; co-sponsored the legislation.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

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