Everybody’s talking about firearms. “Gun control” peaked in Google’s search bar this year, and metal detectors are popping up faster than the October leaves are turning red. Implementation of strong security measures seems to be contagious among big cities, yet Ann Arbor still lacks the infrastructure and sense of urgency needed to make significant change. A greater number of states, cities and municipalities — including Ann Arbor — need to hop aboard the firearm security bandwagon in order to see true success in the effectiveness of policies.
Ann Arbor has a population of well over 100,000, and if you’ve been here on a Football Saturday, you know all too well that visitors account for a significant amount of the city’s make up. If Ann Arbor follows the lead of California, New York and Illinois — states with some of the strictest gun control laws — this would mean having metal detectors in our sports stadiums, bars and school buildings.
Metal detectors stand aside an increasingly large number of doors at sports and music venues. The NFL provided them to all of their stadiums in 2011, followed by the MLB and NHL in 2015. The NBA was even awarded a Safety Act certification from the Department of Homeland Security. College stadiums are implementing them as well, but the schools doing so are (curiously) Southern. Safety regulations at the University of Michigan’s Big House reflect national policies, listing guns and other weapons as prohibited items. The stadium does not have a bag-check policy because bags are prohibited entirely, and also lacks metal detectors at the entrance. A security check would take ages if the more than 100,000 fans at each game need to be screened.
The Michigan Theater, a landmark of downtown Ann Arbor for the past 90 years, provides security at events only when deemed necessary by both the venue and artist.
“The objective is to make people feel comfortable and to be mindful of public safety,” Russ Collins, executive director and CEO of the historic theater, said. He explains that each show attracts a distinctive crowd, and each crowd carries a unique need for security — some require no security, while other, rowdier events have bag checks, metal detector wands and increased security personnel. Pop concerts and controversial speaker series fall into this latter category. Though safety at shows produces high levels of anxiety among patrons, Collins cannot remember a time that the Michigan Theater has had to turn someone away due to weapon possession.
Some downtown bars around the country are strengthening security measures. I spoke about this with Tom from Scorekeepers Sports Grill and Pub, a local spot that is favored by many University students. Normally, the bar has security to check purses and backpacks at the front door, and on weekends with a higher turnout expected, extra personnel are hired. When asked about a metal detector, Tom responded frankly that there is simply no room in the pub to fit a metal detector. Additionally, as far as he knows, security measures are put in place by the bar itself and are not mandated by the city of Ann Arbor.
School districts in larger cities have started using metal detectors in an attempt to prevent mass shootings. In Detroit, for example, high schoolers step through a sea of vigilantly monitored metal detectors every time they enter the building. April Zeoli, an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, spoke at Palmer Commons this week on a panel regarding innovative policy as a preventative approach to firearm-related violence. Zeoli explained to me that recently Ann Arbor Public Schools decided to completely ban guns from their campuses, regardless of an individual’s permit to carry a weapon. They were sued by opposing groups, but the Michigan Supreme Court sided with the district. Although the University is a different entity, as is MSU, gun control policies are still in place.
“There are absolutely no guns allowed on Michigan State’s campus,” Zeoli explained. “You cannot have them in buildings, dorms, classrooms — essentially, you can’t have them at all.” To implement these rules, MSU relies on the honor system. “It is inefficient to think that we can post metal detectors everywhere, search every backpack, investigate every single possible avenue a gun can come into a place, and be successful. That’s just not going to happen.”
Contrary to popular belief, “gun control” doesn’t mean confiscation of all firearms, but rather defines the movement to analyze when, where and why they are used. Some city-dwellers are demanding Congress pass policies that could “keep guns out of the wrong hands” and thus prevent mass shootings, but others correspondingly argue that gun control laws aren’t effective. Large cities, including Las Vegas and Chicago, create controversy in the debate, as they are home to relatively tough gun control laws and still have high levels of gun violence — however, Alaska has lenient control policies and the highest rate of gun deaths in the country.
This leaves us with two scenarios. Maybe gun control laws are ineffective and are only put in place as a palliative measure — chronic gun violence in Chicago is often used as evidence for the ineffectiveness of such policies. Or, alternatively, gun control laws need to be more stringent and ubiquitous. New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman claims the state has “the strongest gun laws in the nation,” and this October, New York City celebrated three consecutive days without a shooting — a feat that hasn’t occurred in 25 years. A city with 8.6 million people, and for the first time in a quarter of a century, no one shot each other for an entire weekend. A recent Johns Hopkins University study bolsters this argument — their School of Public Health published a meta-analysis of 130 international studies, and showed that firearm legislation is indeed associated with fewer firearm-related deaths.
While several sports arenas, concert venues, bars and school districts in Ann Arbor are raising the bar for what they deem as “safe,” we still lack a city-wide consensus on firearm security and prevention in public spaces, and may continue to see that trend nationally. Unfortunately, “gun control” has slowly and surely become quite politically charged, meaning the entity most likely to address concerns is the federal government, not the local. A poll predicting the upcoming 2018 election shows that the country is split on how to move forward regarding firearm policies, meaning we probably will not see any federally-sourced policy changes in Ann Arbor in the near future. Our city has the opportunity to be proactive, rather than reactive, to potential gun violence.
Julia Montag can be reached at email@example.com.