To understand how confusing Michigan’s gun laws are, look no further than your neighborhood elementary school.
Schools are designated as “weapon-free” zones by state law. So no guns.
But wait. There is an exception in the weapon-free zone law for individuals who hold licenses that allow them to carry a concealed weapon. So those with conceal carry licenses – one in 12 adults in Michigan and one in seven in some northern Michigan counties – can carry a handgun beneath their coat into a school, right?
Not really. The concealed carry law prohibits carrying concealed weapons into a school.
OK. So no guns in schools?
While the concealed carry law prohibits concealed weapons, it doesn’t forbid individuals with concealed carry licenses from carrying weapons carried in open sight. The result: anyone with a concealed carry license can wear a pistol on their hip in a school, as long as the gun isn’t hidden.
But that’s not the whole story either.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that schools can set their own policies on guns. School districts can ban guns from their buildings, and anyone who brings in a gun can be asked to leave, and if they don’t, could be charged with trespassing.
Of course, that means there may be a different gun rule in your neighborhood elementary than in an elementary a few miles away.
Welcome to the world of Michigan gun laws, where you can carry a concealed handgun into a restaurant that serves alcohol but not a tavern that serves food, and into a small-town movie theater, but maybe not into a multi-screen theater complex.
The Michigan Legislature is considering eliminating the need to get a license to carry a concealed weapon. A group of bills passed the House of Representatives in June and are awaiting a hearing in the Senate.
You can read an analysis of the bills by the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency here.
If passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, the bills would eliminate the need to get a license, and the training and fee now required to get a license to carry a concealed handgun. Currently, residents can carry an unconcealed weapon without a license.
A dozen states allow concealed carry of weapons without a permit.
The bills would not change where Michigan residents can and cannot carry a concealed weapon, just how many people could do it.
Here’s a primer on the confusing state of the law:
What’s the difference between open carry and concealed carry?
Anyone can carry their own registered firearm as long as it is visible to others. An individual with a concealed carry license can carry a handgun (but not a gun with a long barrel such as a rifle) under clothing. There are some differences in where individuals with concealed carry licenses and those without licenses can have guns.
Do many people have concealed carry permits?
According to the most recent data from the Michigan State Police, 617,000 Michigan residents age 21 or older have a concealed carry license. That’s one in 11.7 adults across the state. The rate ranges from one in every 6.7 adults in Keweenaw County in the Upper Peninsula, to one in every 19.5 adults in Kent County.
Generally, a higher percentage of residents have concealed carry permits in the Upper Peninsula.
Why is licensing an issue?
Gun advocates argue that since people can carry an exposed handgun most places in the state without paying for a license, the concealed carry license amounts to a “coat tax” – a price paid to be able to wear a coat over a gun.
The legislation is opposed by the Michigan Sheriffs Association, which cited safety concerns for officers and the public.
What about crime?
Critics feared Michigan would become like the Wild West when it became legal to carry a concealed weapon in 2001. That hasn’t happened. In fact, crime and shootings have decreased statewide. Has the law made us safer? Experts disagree, saying there’s a host of factors. Likewise, suicide rates tend to be higher in counties with more concealed weapons permits than the state average, but there’s no consensus on the cause.
Legal here, but not there?
There are numerous quirks in the laws. For example, an individual with a concealed pistol license can walk into the state Capitol, but not into courtrooms in county courthouses; they can walk across a college campus, but not walk into campus buildings. And someone can carry an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle under a trench coat without a concealed carry license because Michigan’s law only addresses handguns.
“That’s the absurdity of all these just arbitrarily chosen places,” said Rick Ector, Rick’s Firearm Academy of Detroit.
Those inconsistencies aren’t addressed by current legislation.
Private property owners can still tell you to take a hike
While the holder of a concealed carry license can carry a concealed weapon into a restaurant, for example, and not violate gun laws, the restaurant manager may have different ideas. A private property owner has the right to ban weapons. If you refuse to leave, the property owner can call the police and have you arrested for trespass.