On eve of protest, gun control bills stir debate among lawmakers, students

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 8:52pm

High school students read the names of the school shooting victims in the student-organized event Never Again Student Die In at Liberty Plaza this past Saturday.

High school students read the names of the school shooting victims in the student-organized event Never Again Student Die In at Liberty Plaza this past Saturday. Buy this photo
Ceren Burcak Dag/Daily

Anthony, an LSA junior at the University of Michigan, said he learned to shoot when he was 8 years old. His grandfather, a military veteran, taught him how to do it well and how to do it safely. He mainly uses guns for hunting and target shooting, and owns several different types of rifles, all of which he keeps in a locked safe.

Anthony, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of student repercussions, said he’s noticed some common misunderstandings about guns — and posed counterarguments often raised by gun owners.  

“That owning guns is ‘dangerous,’ I’ve heard that one a lot,” he said. “They’re not dangerous to own, it’s people who lack proper knowledge and care.”

Anthony, who has had official training in gun safety and taken hunters’ safety courses, said he’s also seen people “fearing a gun based on how it looks,” citing recent calls to ban AR-15 rifles.

“People just need to have knowledge on guns and do their due diligence on the issue because most things they are told around the issue is false, but they have no prior knowledge to tell the difference,” he said.

Anthony is one of the 28.8 percent of Michigan residents who own a gun — but his anti-control views are being called into question in the wake of the Parkland shooting, one of the worst mass shootings in the country’s history. Now, as students across Michigan prepare to walk out of class Wednesday in remembrance of the Parkland victims, state lawmakers are considering two gun control measures. One would arm certain teachers and the other would allow authorities to confiscate guns from people who exhibit symptoms of mental illness.

State Rep. Jim Runestad, R-Waterford, is drafting legislation that would permit school districts to give specially-trained teachers access to guns stored in locked, undisclosed locations. President Trump has recently endorsed the idea of arming teachers.

In a statement, Runestad said keeping children safe in school means having “adequate defenses.”

“Children are vulnerable targets in our schools and school shootings will not be stopped until our schools are secure,” Runestad said. “By the time police arrive it is usually too late. It’s time to develop model protocols for the nation here in Michigan, whereby specially trained staff who volunteer will be able to access a secured firearm in event of an emergency.”

Under Runestad’s bill, volunteers would receive 80 hours of training on gun use, gun safety and de-escalation techniques, as well as instruction on how to respond to an active shooter. Opening the compartments housing the guns would require the thumbprint of an approved school employee.

Public Policy junior Kellie Lounds, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said she disagreed with the idea that arming teachers would help combat gun violence.

“The solution to the epidemic of gun violence that our country is facing is not to add more guns to the equation,” she said. “By arming teachers, we would be putting an undue burden on our already overexerted and underpaid educators and making the classroom more dangerous than before.”

The second measure gaining traction in Lansing would establish a procedure for taking guns away from individuals that a judge deems to be a legitimate threat. Gov. Rick Snyder, R, has expressed support for so-called “red flag” legislation, a position that puts him at odds with some of his fellow Republicans, who reference concerns about possible violations of due process.

Lounds highlighted the need to get individuals with mental illness treatment, rather than focusing only on the role they play in mass shootings.

“Mental illness, while not the main cause of gun violence, is something our country should be talking more about,” she said. “People dealing with mental illness have been institutionally neglected continuously and should receive proper attention all the time, not just when politicians want to use them as an excuse to not do anything about gun violence. If we had more strict gun laws, these individuals wouldn’t have access to guns in the first place, and so we can’t continue to use mental illness as a deflection.”

At POLITICO’s Eighth Annual State Solutions Conference in Washington, D.C. in February, Snyder said it’s “worth looking at” red flag laws, commenting, “We need to have a thoughtful dialogue.”

Lounds said the state government and federal government are “severely lacking” in legislation that would be effective in decreasing gun violence.

“From our perspective, one facet of ideal gun regulation would be the banning of semi-automatic and automatic weapons; guns meant largely for military activity have no place in domestic life,” she said. “We should also have universal background checks for individuals wishing to purchase a firearm as well as banning the purchase of bump stocks. Finally, as some states and retailers are starting to do, the minimum age to purchase a firearm should be raised.”

The University’s chapter of College Republicans did not respond to request for comment.

After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., major retailers including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart raised the minimum age to purchase a gun at their stores to 21. A Michigan teen recently filed a lawsuit against Dick’s Sporting Goods after the chain refused to sell him a firearm at its store in Troy. The teen is suing on the grounds of age discrimination.

Anthony disagreed with the stores’ decision to raise the minimum age to buy a gun. He argued that at 18, people are generally considered to be adults and can enlist in the military.

“Let’s say someone is 20 and serves in the military and they want to purchase a rifle, they go to either of those retailers and are denied,” he said. “This is absurd because they can handle military grade weapons but not buy a rifle. If citizens are able to be in the military at 18 and can actively serve, then at 18, citizens should be allowed to purchase firearms.”

There are currently 53 bills dealing with guns and weapons making their way through the state legislature. Runestad plans to schedule hearings this spring for his bill to arm teachers, and Snyder is reportedly considering red flag regulations.