Incident Triggers Questions
By: Kendall Hitch and Meghan Flynn
Can a parent bring a loaded handgun into a Michigan public school, during school hours?
The answer could be a surprising and confusing “yes” and has Birmingham Public Schools administrators concerned, after a parent entered a school in October, peacefully, with a weapon.
According to Deputy Superintendent Paul DeAngelis, school officials dealt with a situation “where a parent was in possession of a firearm while in an elementary school’s main office.”
DeAngelis declined to name the school and the name of the alleged parent, on the advice of the district’s legal counsel. No further detail was provided, however, Board Policy #7217 prohibits visitors, “including a parent, from possessing a weapon on any Birmingham Public Schools’ property.”
DeAngelis said, in an e-mail to the Highlander, this only excludes properly licensed parents with concealed firearms picking or dropping their children off at school from the seclusion of their own car. DeAngelis told the Highlander this policy is consistent with state and federal laws.
After the incident, DeAngelis said the Board of Education notified the parent, in writing, of its concerns. The following was given to the undisclosed parent:
“A [further] violation of this Policy will result in a referral to law enforcement officials for immediate removal of the person from the premises, as well as a request from criminal prosecution,” the letter said. “A violation may further result in exclusion of the person from the future visits to our schools and District-sponsored events.”
However, the district may be in a bind. According to DeAngelis, the district’s outside legal counsel told them recent court rulings may invalidate the district’s policy.
The Michigan Court of Appeals, found in the court case Capital Area District Library v Michigan Open Carry that “…the Michigan Firearms and Ammunition Act prohibits a local unit of government from regulating the possession licensing or transportation of pistols or other properly licensed firearms”. Possession includes both open and concealed weapons.
Due to this case, Clark Hill PLC, the district’s legal counsel, issued a statement entitled “Right to Open Carry Firearms Cannot be Restricted.”
“Under this Act, properly licensed firearms may be openly carried anywhere in the state, expect in those areas specifically prohibited by Act 319 and other applicable law (although the list of prohibited areas includes “school property” the prohibition does not apply to individuals licensed by Michigan or another state to carry a concealed weapon),” the act says.
With this court ruling, under Michigan Law, the Birmingham school district does not appear to have the authority of stopping someone from bringing a gun onto school grounds.
However, that ruling appears to conflict with US federal law.
The Gun Free Zone Act prohibits anyone to knowingly have a firearm that has moved into a school zone. A “school zone” is defined as on private or public school grounds or 1,000 feet from the grounds of a public, private school.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan E. Gillooly, the Deputy Chief of the General Crimes Unit (Eastern District, Michigan), the penalty for violating the law is “not more than $5000, up to five years’ imprisonment, or both”.
“A conviction under this statute will cause an individual to then become a ‘prohibited person’ under the Gun Control Act of 1968, which will bar them from legally owning firearms the rest of their life,” Gillooly told the Highlander.
In order to enforce the federal law and pursue a federal case, federal resources – ranging from federal law enforcement officials to federal prosecutors – would need to be allocated.
Federal assistance, in these situations, appears to be unlikely. For the policy to change at the local level, it will need to occur first at the state. According to the Clark Hill PLC report, school districts are encouraged to “consider contacting your area legislatures” to change policy.
The Highlander contacted a spokesperson for the Brady Campaign, a gun control advocacy group that has previously been in support of gun regulations, and briefed the group on the incident. The spokesperson declined comment and instead directed the Highlander to Smartgunlaws.com. This site only confirmed Michigan does not allow local government to regulate firearms or to enforce discretion or deny a concealed handgun license.
The Highlander also contacted The National Rifle Association, a Second Amendment advocacy group. The NRA declined comment, despite multiple phone calls and e-mails from the Highlander.
According to BPS School Board Secretary Robert Lawrence, this issue goes beyond the Second Amendment.
“I fully support Second Amendment rights,” Lawrence said in an email to the Highlander. “But I also fully support common sense in applying regulatory powers vested at the state level.”
Despite the confusion, according to DeAngelis, the district will continue to enforce policy #7217.
“It remains our position as a district that we will contact the police anytime we see anyone carrying a gun on school property,” DeAngelis said in an e-mail. “We will be communicating with our stakeholders and reps in Lansing to advocate for a change in this interpretation of the law.”