June 1, 2001 (LANSING, Mich.) - On July 1, Michigan is scheduled to become the latest state to allow most citizens to carry concealed handguns.
Now the fight over the law has shifted from the state Legislature to the courts. On June 13, the state Supreme Court is to hear arguments on whether voters should have the last word in a referendum. Last week, a state board certified petitions carrying 250,000 signatures that would put the issue on the ballot in November.
The legal maneuvering is technical, involving the question of whether a $1 million appropriation to put the law into effect makes the referendum vote necessary. But Michigan is the latest battleground in the gun control wars, with opponents of concealed carry laws arguing that they put more guns on the street while advocates say that the reduce crime by giving law-abiding citizens the means to protect themselves.
"We don't think it's good public policy for government to encourage people to walk around with guns>" said Carolyn Jarvis. "In Michigan, where we are doing everything we can to show kids that the way to solve problems is not to pick up a weapon, we don't think we have s snowballs' chance if adults are going around saying the opposite." The Michigan law would allow residents who are at least 21 and have lived in the state for six months to apply for a permit. Permits would be denied to those with criminal records or a history of mental illness and applicants would be required to go through eight hours of training.
Jarvis believes that eight hours is not enough. She argues that police officers go through a much longer education in the use of firearms, but "still problems come up." She also said that the law would allow many people with severe emotional problems to obtain weapons, because very few people are officially adjudicated as mentally ill.
The National Rifle Association endorses the new Michigan law. Todd Adkins, deputy director of state and local affairs, said that the current law results in a "patchwork system" because permits are granted by county boards. "We cannot give appointed or elected bureaucrats control," he said. "Gun boards in some counties refuse to grant any permits at all. Some counties have essentially a 'shall-issue' system." Michigan, like 13 other states, now grants some concealed-carry permits. Gun-owners must show a need to do so, usually because of occupation like some security guards or small businessmen who travel with large amounts of cash or jewelry. In most of these states, licensing agencies have considerable discretion on granting permits.
Ohio, next door to Michigan, is one of seven states that ban all carrying of concealed weapons by private citizens. Kirstie McLean, a spokeswoman for Gov. Robert Taft, said that some legislators want to ease the law but that the governor would not sign any bill opposed by law enforcement agencies.
A majority of states, 28, now grant concealed permits to gun owners who do not have criminal records or histories of mental illness. While most are in the south and west, they include Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. And Vermont is the only state in the country where no permit is required to carry a concealed handgun.
In April 1999, voters in Missouri, which bans concealed carrying of handguns, rejected a more to liberalize the state law - a vote that shows why opponents of the Michigan law are so eager to get the issue on the ballot.