Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
In the last month, there have been several unrelated incidents involving firearms and Michigan schools. On one occasion, a Royal Oak man openly carried a rifle and handgun near school property in Madison Heights, prompting officials to lock down Lamphere High School for about an hour. On another occasion, a man openly carried his holstered pistol into a choir concert at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. And just last week, a Macomb County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney was cited for inadvertently leaving a loaded handgun at his son’s elementary school in Macomb Township.
These incidents have caused many people to ask why Michigan allows the open carry of firearms on school property and whether the Michigan Legislature should take steps to prohibit all guns in schools.
The Michigan Constitution provides that “[e]very person has a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of himself and the state.” Const 1963, art 1, section 6. While this right is not absolute, the default rule in Michigan is that a person may carry a firearm for self-defense unless a reasonable limitation has been imposed by the Legislature.
The Michigan Legislature has imposed several such reasonable limitations. For instance, the Legislature has provided that no person may carry a concealed firearm without a permit, that individuals may not carry firearms while under the influence of alcohol, and that convicted felons may not possess firearms under many circumstances.
Contrary to what you might have heard, Michigan has no law that expressly permits the open carrying of firearms on school property. Instead, it is the absence of any law prohibiting open carry at schools that effectively allows the practice.
Section 234d of the Michigan Penal Code prohibits the possession of firearms at certain establishments including banks, credit unions, churches, courts, theaters, sports arenas, day-care centers, hospitals, and bars. Section 5o of Michigan’s Firearms Act prohibits the holder of a concealed pistol license (CPL) from carrying a concealed pistol at a school, day-care center, stadium, sports arena, church, hospital, entertainment facility with a seating capacity of 2,500 or more, dormitory or classroom of a college or university, or bar where the primary source of income is the sale of alcoholic beverages by the glass. However, section 234d does not list schools or school property. Furthermore, section 5o only prohibits the possession of a concealed pistol on the listed premises. In other words, an individual with a valid CPL may openly carry a firearm on any of the premises listed in section 5o.
Section 237a(4) makes it a misdemeanor to possess a weapon on school property. But section 237a(4) specifically states that it does not apply to police officers, security officers, or valid CPL holders.
In short, although CPL holders may not carry a concealed firearm at a school, there is no Michigan law that prohibits a CPL holder from openly carrying a firearm on school property.
In response to the recent outcry over open carry on school premises, the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education has begun considering whether to enact a policy declaring all of its properties “Weapon-Free Zones.” The problem? Such a policy would be preempted by state law, illegal, and unenforceable.
In Michigan, state law completely occupies the field with respect to firearm regulation. MCL 123.1102; Capital Area Dist Library v Michigan Open Carry, Inc, 298 Mich App 220, 224; 826 NW2d 736 (2012). Local governments, including school districts, may not ban the use or possession of firearms on their premises. Id. The Ann Arbor Public Schools is a local unit of government and, as such, may not adopt a policy restricting the ability of an individual with a valid CPL to openly carry a firearm on its property.
If the members of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education wish to prohibit the open carry of firearms at their schools, they have exactly two options: (1) they may ask the Michigan Legislature to amend state law to prohibit all open carry on school property, or (2) they may circulate initiative petitions proposing a new state law prohibiting all open carry on school property. It may well be true that the sight of an individual openly carrying a firearm in a school building is frightening to the young pupils and unsettling to the school staff. But short of an amendment to state law, the open carrying of firearms on school property by the holders of valid CPLs will remain legal in Michigan.