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Published: Monday, 4/30/2001

New concealed weapons law stirs debate in Michigan


TEMPERANCE - Jim Dunmyer uses his handguns at a local firing range.

He has a license to own the guns but never has applied for a permit to carry them as concealed weapons.

The reason: He claims the state's law on concealed weapons is confusing.

“Right now, the laws are very restrictive on carrying your guns in the car to the range,” said Mr. Dunmyer, 57, a member of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners. “Right now, I can carry a gun to and from the range I belong to, meaning if I want to go to my friend's house and shoot tin cans in the back, I'm taking a serious risk.”

On July 1, a law liberalizing Michigan's concealed-weapon permit process will take effect.

Mr. Dunmyer and other gun advocates support the new law, but opponents say it will help put guns in the wrong hands.

Under the current law, local gun boards have the authority, and the discretion, to issue concealed weapon permits to applicants.

The new law, approved last year by the Legislature and signed by Governor Engler in January, will require all county gun boards to issue permits only to candidates who:

  • Are 21 years or older.

  • Are Michigan residents for at least 6 months.

  • Have no felony or misdemeanor criminal record.

  • Have no history of mental illness.

  • Successfully completed eight hours of training.

    The bill defines “gun-free zones” or areas where concealed weapons legally cannot be carried.

    Supporters say the changes were made to weed out the personal discretion that went into approving a permit request. But the new law has ignited a flurry of activity among groups that lobby for stricter gun regulations.

    Petitions have been circulating to place the issue on the ballot. Those petitions are being counted for valid signatures.

    Groups opposing the new law say that once the regulations take effect, an estimated 200,000 people will be able to carry guns around the clock. In particular, the Michigan Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence says it fears gun-toting adults will become commonplace in cars, parks, restaurants, stores, movie theaters, and courtrooms.

    Joy Livingston said the more lax gun regulations ultimately will result in more crime.

    A mother of three and a local day-care provider, Mrs. Livingston is president of the Southwest Michigan chapter of the Million Mom March, a nationwide organization that supports stricter gun laws. She said the changes in Michigan's concealed-weapon permit process are a step in the wrong direction.

    “If you want a gun, have it at your home or at target ranges,” she said. “Keep them out of the streets of Michigan.”

    Michigan was the 32nd state in the country to adopt a so-called “shall-issue'' permit law. In Ohio, only state agents or law-enforcement officers are allowed to carry concealed weapons. Anyone else found carrying a dangerous weapon is charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, Toledo police Lt. Rick Reed said.

    Ohio gun owners who are registered properly are given an opportunity to prove why they need to carry a weapon at their trial, he said.

    Michigan State Rep. Doug Spade (D., Adrian) said the legislation has led to a lot of talk among residents in his southeast Michigan district. Most of the input, he said, was in support of the bill.

    “It sets uniform guidelines in place so that no matter where you are, there are guidelines that the gun board has to follow,” Mr. Spade said. “I felt on this particular issue, it was important to have some uniformity from county to county and this law created that.”

    Lenawee County Sheriff Larry Richardson sits on his county's gun board. Although new to the position, Sheriff Richardson said he has sat through three sessions of the gun board where people hoping to get ahead of the summer rush have requested permits.

    The board grants permits to those who show a need, Sheriff Richardson said. After July 1, it will grant permits to anyone who meets the requirements.

    “My point of view is somewhat different than other law-enforcement officers. I don't see a problem with it,” he said. “The problem will be for the gun board because come July 1, I'm thinking we'll be flooded with permit applications.”

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