LANSING, Mich. – Licensed gun owners with extra training could legally carry inside schools, churches, bars and other pistol-free zones under hotly contested legislation that was approved Wednesday by the Republican-led Michigan Senate, days after the Texas church massacre.
The bills were sent to the GOP-led House for consideration next. They face an uncertain future because Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, vetoed a similar plan in 2012 following the mass shooting of elementary schoolchildren in Connecticut.
Snyder is not commenting on the new legislation until or if it wins final legislative passage.
In Michigan, it is illegal for the nearly 618,000 people with concealed weapons permits to carry in designated gun-free zones: schools, day cares, stadiums, large concert halls, taverns, places of worship, hospitals, many college dorms or classrooms, and casinos.
The legislation would legalize the right to carry in those places if a license holder gets eight more hours of training, though privately owned businesses such as bars could stay pistol-free. People licensed to carry would be banned from openly carrying or intentionally displaying a pistol — a provision that addresses a "loophole" that has allowed armed open-carry activists to enter the gun-free zones and has sparked lawsuits.
The current law already gives the leaders of churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship permission to allow concealed weapons.
Twenty-five Republicans voted for the main bill . All 11 Democrats and one Republican opposed it.
The sponsor, GOP Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof of West Olive, said the recent mass shootings in Texas and Las Vegas highlight the need to act.
"I believe citizens have the right to be free and safe and secure and to defend themselves and their loved ones," he said. "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."
Opponents, including gun-control advocates and the education lobby, criticized allowing anyone other than a law enforcement or security officer to bring pistols inside schools, day care centers and other public spaces. They called it the "pistols in preschools" legislation, warned of accidental shootings and chaos for police responding to active shooters, and said it could boost liability insurance costs. Critics also questioned allowing alcohol and guns to mix and said the bills would do nothing to stop bad actors from obtaining guns in the first place.
"Real life is not an action movie. The reality is you're much more likely to have an accident in a preschool, in a day care center, in a school" if the legislation becomes law, Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich, a former teacher from Flint, said during the debate.
More than three-dozen volunteer members of the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America watched the afternoon debate from the Senate gallery. The National Rifle Association supports the bills.
A Republican spokeswoman said school districts would be authorized to prevent their teachers and other employees from bringing a gun into a school building under an existing law, though a Democratic spokeswoman said the matter should be clarified. The legislation also would make property owned by public airport authorities pistol-free zones unless a gun owner has the additional training.
Another bill that passed along party lines Wednesday would let 18- to 20-year-olds obtain a provisional concealed pistol permit. The current minimum age is 21.
The state Senate also voted to include school districts, libraries and community colleges in a state ban on local gun regulations and to loosen gun restrictions for foster parents.
It was the latest salvo from a GOP-led Legislature that at times has been at odds with the governor on guns. In June, the state House approved legislation that would make it voluntary to have a concealed pistol license.
When Snyder vetoed the proposed elimination of gun-free zones in 2012, he primarily expressed concern that the bill would not have let public entities such as schools, day care facilities and hospitals choose to remain gun-free.
Senate Bills 584: http://bit.ly/2yEMgoM