The Michigan Senate passed legislation last week allowing licensed gun owners to carry concealed handguns inside schools, churches, bars and other traditionally gun-free zones.
Bill 584 is a part of a three-bill package that will now move to the state House of Representatives after passing almost completely along party lines with a 25-to-12 vote.
The vote came three days after a mass shooting in Sutherland Spring, Texas, causing some to suspect Senate Republicans fast-tracked the bill to take advantage of the urgency of the tragedy. Considering the context of multiple mass shootings in the United States this year, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, who introduced the bill, said these events make the bill’s passing more relevant.
“I believe citizens have the right to be free and safe and secure and to defend themselves and their loved ones. Responsible, well-trained, licensed gun owners may be one of those deterrents to those individuals who seek out gun-free zones as opportunities to commit heinous crimes,” Meekhof said, as reported in The Washington Post.
However, the bill faced emotional backlash. As reported by the Detroit Free Press, state Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, said other concealed weapons carriers do little to help in mass shooting incidents and shouldn’t be used to justify the bill.
Public Policy junior Lauren Schandevel, communications director of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, agreed with Warren and said Meekhof’s logic is misguided.
“This legislation is both poorly timed and poorly conceived,” Schandeval said. “The idea that more guns in prohibited areas will help prevent mass shootings has been prevalent in our legislature for some time, and it is sorely misguided.”
Though Democrats nicknamed the bill “Pistols in Preschools,” Linda Brundage, executive director of the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said there will also be adverse effects on college campuses.
“Students need to be worried,” Brundage said. “Students go to bars, students go to large stadiums, other venues. I mean, it is an issue, and it will just stifle intellectual development, I think, in a lot of different ways. And suicide is very high among the college-age population.”
Additionally, Brundage said most of Meekhof’s argument rests on the assumption of excessive violence in gun-free zones, which is inaccurate.
“When Senator Meekhof introduced this legislation, he said that most shootings happen in gun-free zones, and that is simply not the case, that’s not accurate information,” Brundage said.
Warren said University students would not see any changes on campus since the University is considered autonomous under the Michigan Constitution.
“A substitute version of SB 584 was adopted during the Senate Government Operations Committee hearing that would allow colleges and universities with autonomous authority under the Michigan Constitution to promulgate their own firearms regulations,” Warren said. “Therefore, this package of bills would not apply to three of the state’s 15 public universities, the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State, because they are autonomous under the state constitution.”
According to a 2015 poll conducted by EPIC-MRA, 57 percent of voters oppose concealed carry in schools, with 61 percent in favor of only law enforcement officials having guns in schools. These numbers have caused some Michigan residents to complain that their views aren’t properly reflected by their representatives.
Though the Republican-controlled House is expected to pass the bill, some speculate Gov. Rick Snyder will veto the legislation. In 2012, Snyder vetoed similar legislation four days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Snyder has not yet released a statement on the current bill.
Snyder vetoed the bill in 2012 for its lack of an opt-out provision for school districts. But Warren said the new version includes this provision, making Snyder more likely to sign.
“While SB 586 does contain an opt-out to allow local school districts to limit students from carrying weapons, the bill would still prohibit them from enacting policies to restrict teachers, faculty or others from carrying firearms,” Warren said.
Still, as reported by the U.S. News and World Report, supporters of the bill think the issue at hand is more theoretical.
“Anybody who wants to exercise their right to protect themselves and have a firearm should be able to do that where they need to,” Meekhof said.
The University’s Chapter of College Republicans did not respond to requests to comment.