LANSING, Mich. — Some Republican lawmakers who feel turning Michigan schools into gun-free zones has made them soft targets for school shootings are introducing measures aimed at allowing guns in schools.
House Speaker Jase Bolger of Marshall is among the Republicans who believe allowing Michigan teachers to carry concealed firearms could help save innocent lives. Bolger, a gun owner with a concealed pistol license, questioned whether making schools gun-free zones has done more harm than good.
“It's reasonable to wonder, are people choosing gun-free zones to go carry out these massacres because they know they won't be stopped?” Bolger asked. “I don't think it's a coincidence that such monsters that are carrying these out are going to gun-free zones to do their massacre.”
Bolger's sentiment is shared by Greg MacMaster, a Kewadin Republican who has introduced the “Michigan School Protection Act,” a measure likely to re-ignite an emotional debate over whether guns have a place in schools.
MacMaster's bill would make an exception to the ban on concealed firearms in Michigan schools. It would allow officials in kindergarten through 12th grade schools to decide whether teachers, administrators or employees could carry a concealed pistol. Officials would have to create guidelines for training and rules for storing the gun, MacMaster said. The bill is sponsored by eight other House Republicans.
A similar bill is being considered by Oklahoma lawmakers and has been met with significant opposition by local school officials.
Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed gun legislation at the end of last year, just days after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students and six educators dead. The measure would have allowed concealed firearms in schools, daycare centers and churches. Under existing law, people may openly carry guns in those locations.
MacMaster's bill would only allow concealed carry for school staff and employees. He said his proposal gives administrators the option to maintain a weapons ban, a point missing in the bill Snyder vetoed.
MacMaster called the measure preferable to “waiting for the next school shooting.” He said it allows “schools to take the responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being for the students and administrations.”
But others say allowing guns in schools could put students in more danger.
William Mayes, the executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, said as a former principal he has felt the adrenaline rush an administrator gets when breaking up a fight. He said “to put a gun in the mix ... just isn't a good, smart response.”
GOP leaders are cautious about pushing forward with the issue when the nation's wounds from the Newtown shooting remain raw.
Bolger said that while he is open to the idea, he doesn't think it is the right time for gun legislation.
“I think we need to take a breath,” Bolger said. “We need to be sure we are applying common sense, not highly charged emotion.”
Snyder has also urged restraint. He has said he doesn't “view spending a lot of time on gun legislation ... as the key driver to really solving many of these issues” and wants lawmakers to focus on improving Michigan's mental health care system.
If the bill makes it to the House floor, it is likely to face strong opposition from some Democrats and school officials who say putting firearms in the hands of teachers and administrator is not the answer.
Senate Majority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said Michigan's teachers “play such a critical role in the lives” of children “and to treat them as if they're little more than security guards is not only insulting to them, but to the students in their classrooms as well.”
Lansing School District spokesman Bob Kolt said the “legislation would not be welcomed” by the district. “When you put a gun in the environment, anything can happen.”
Others, like Don Wortuba, the deputy director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, are not dismissing the idea. Wortuba said some of the association's members expressed interest in removing the concealed weapons ban after December's shooting. He said the fact the bill leaves the choice up to school officials is positive.
Still, he called it naive to think allowing teachers to carry weapons would prevent shootings like the one in Connecticut.
Similar debates are being waged nationwide. In Texas, some lawmakers are pushing for measures to allow guns on college campuses in the wake of the most recent shooting at Lone Star College.
But Mayes said allowing guns in schools is “a knee-jerk reaction to a much larger and complex problem.” He said despite the recent wave of shootings, schools remain “the safest place for kids.”