Michigan lawmakers are now holding hearings with gun owners across the state over whether to expand concealed weapons privileges to “safe areas,” such as schools, hospitals and churches. Currently, Michigan law forbids all individuals — even those with concealed weapons permits — from taking guns into those areas where guns have no logical role. If the state Legislature decides to reverse the ban on concealed weapons in safe zones, it risks reinforcing a culture of violence and embarking on a slippery slope involving the legitimacy of concealed weapons in areas where they do not belong.
Current Michigan law requires a concealed weapons owner to be 21 years of age, be free from conviction for a felony or misdemeanor and have no history of mental illness. When the law was originally passed in 2001, the argument in favor of concealed weapons was that they contributed to personal safety. Applicants for a general permit had to indicate that they needed a concealed weapon. However, changes to the law over time have dissolved this requirement — a person no longer needs to provide reasons for why he want a concealed weapon — and this latest proposed expansion of concealed weapons rights does nothing to increase public safety. By expanding this law — originally designed to make people feel more secure — proponents of the bill are subtly and detrimentally labeling schools, hospitals and churches as unsafe.
Indeed, there is a decent chance that this legislation would actually make schools, churches and hospitals less safe by contributing to a culture of fear. Advocates of concealed weapons argue that criminals will be deterred from committing crimes because they fear potential victims will be armed. However, with concealed weapons, the threat that an opponent is armed could lead to pre-emptive shootings in otherwise minor altercations. This threat — exacerbated in the closed, confined quarters of schools and hospitals — is sufficient reason to refrain from further loosening concealed weapons regulations.
Just as people argued that concealed weapons would help prevent violence, they are now arguing that guns should be allowed in schools to help prevent and stop school shootings. In light of the recent tragedy in Minnesota, this argument carries emotional weight. However, allowing teachers to attend class armed could exacerbate the problem. On one hand, a student who manages to capture a teacher’s concealed weapon would easily be able to go on a rampage. On the other, the already extreme fear of gun violence in high schools could lead teachers — who are not trained security professionals — to use lethal force in situations where it is neither necessary nor appropriate.
The ramifications of a student’s actions being misconstrued and a teacher exercising excessive force cannot be overstated. Besides unnecessary death, one mistake would shatter confidence on both sides of the educational system — students would fear their teachers, and teachers would suffer from blanket condemnation from students, parents and the community. If teachers and administrators are concerned about school safety, they should focus on developing a safe, tolerant learning environment — not on matching force with force.
Additionally, this law would create a slippery slope that could lead to the legalization of concealed weapons in other safe, formerly outlawed areas. Guns are currently banned on airliners because a history of armed hijackings has led many to believe that guns make air travel unsafe. However, if we accept the arguments in favor of more lax concealed weapons laws, the possibility exists that civilians could be allowed to carry weapons onto commercial flights at some point in the future.
The Legislature should not move to relax Michigan’s concealed weapons laws — concealed weapons have no place in schools, churches or hospitals. Legislators must recognize the consequences of weakening concealed weapons laws and decide not to do so.