New Concealed-Weapons Proposals Face Heated Debate
By David Runk, Special to Stateline
Each year for the past few years, between 40 and 50 bills addressing concealed weapons have been pending in state legislatures, said Kelly Anders, policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures. Changes to the laws are unique on a state-by-state basis, depending on the balance of political power and the needs of local residents.
"The types of bills run the gamut from very minute changes administrative changes to all the way to what we're seeing in states like Michigan and others, where you have a material change in the law," Anders said.
Michigan considered proposals to loosen its concealed-weapons laws for years before the legislature last December passed the latest law. While seen as a boon for gun-owners groups, others who would like to see tougher gun laws voiced outrage at the move. Opponents say the legislature pushed through a law that most Michiganders don't want."If it gets on the ballot, I feel quite confident that it will be voted down," said Carolynne Jarvis, executive director of the Michigan Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that opposes the new law. "If it doesn't get on the ballot, I think we will get some recalls the way we saw the last time the legislature went against the will of the people."
The Michigan Supreme Court, which heard arguments June 13 on the law before a packed gallery, has until July 31 to rule, but a decision likely will come before July 1, when the law is scheduled to take effect.
The law requires gun boards to issue concealed weapons permits to anyone over 21 who has no history of felonies or mental illness, compared with current law that requires need be shown to get a permit.
At issue, however, is disagreement about whether the law can be put to a vote. Opponents collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot in November 2002, but proponents of the law argued that it could not be subject to a referendum because it contains $1 million for enforcement by the State Police. Michigan's Constitution doesn't permit funding for state institutions to be subject to a referendum. But the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the argument in May.In a statement on the issue, Ross Dykman, executive director of the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners -- one of the groups that filed suit to stop the referendum -- said: "A majority of Michigan legislators reformed the Concealed Weapons Statute in a completely democratic process. This law should take effect July 1st as intended. Those who disagree with the issues have other legal methods at their disposal."
Nationwide, reaction is varied to new concealed-weapons laws. The New Mexico legislature approved a law that takes effect July 1, allowing people to get permits to carry concealed weapons with some training. The first permits take effect next year, but a provision attached to the law allows local governments to ban concealed weapons. The Minnesota Senate recently rejected a bill allowing more people to carry concealed weapons. Ohio legislators, meanwhile, are looking at bills that would allow residents to carry concealed weapons.
Supporters of laws that allow more citizens to carry concealed weapons argue that such proposals are an extension of their Second Amendment right to bear arms. Opponents of the measures, however, counter that more permit holders and more people carrying concealed weapons will lead to more injuries and deaths because of firearms. Because of strong opinions on both sides, progress in either direction generally is made in small steps."You really have a situation where it is almost like a teeter totter," said the NCSL's Anders. "Both sides weigh about the same, so you don't really get too far."With the fate of Michigan's law before the state Supreme Court, it appears residents may not have wanted such a law in the first place. Pollster Ed Sarpolus with the Lansing-based EPIC/MRA found in a survey of 600 people that 55 percent opposed the change when it was debated in the legislature late last year. Of those surveyed, 37 percent favored the measure and 8 percent didn't know.
"Since 1994, the attitude hasn't really changed," said Sarpolus, referring to when EPIC/MRA's first surveys on the topic were given. "They don't want to ban guns, and if they have concealed weapons they want people to have demonstrative needs."But Sarpolus added that these findings don't mean that Michigan voters would reject the law in 2002. If the ballot proposal is pitched to voters as reform maintaining rights and responsibilities of Michigan residents -- he said it likely would be approved. But if the debate strays from those terms, opponents of the law could prevail.