School Climate & Safety

Open Carry Issue in Michigan Schools May Not Be Settled

By Brendan Quealy, The Record-Eagle (Mich.) — August 03, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Traverse City, Mich.

Questions remain after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that two school districts have the right to ban guns from their schools.

In what looked to be a clear win for the Michigan Association of School Boards as well as gun control advocates, the state Supreme Court on Friday ruled 4-3 in favor of Ann Arbor and Clio school district policies that barred individuals from openly carrying a firearm on school grounds even if they held an exempted concealed pistol license.

Many saw the ruling as a green light for districts to pass their own similar legislation without fear of litigation. That likely is not the case, according to attorney and firearms law professor Steve Dulan.

Dulan, who also serves on the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners board of directors, said the ruling failed to adequately address why the school boards’ policies did not fall under the umbrella of conflict preemption, which gives state policies precedence over those of smaller governing bodies. Determining whether the policies were conflict-preempted was “unnecessary,” according to the court’s written opinion.

“It was a missed opportunity to clarify the issue,” Dulan said. “It looks like schools are allowed to make policies, however, there’s an open question if those policies are in direct conflict state law—and that issue has yet to be re-litigated.”

The court did rule on field preemption, stating school districts are not defined as a “local unit of government” and as such are not subject to their policies being overruled by the state. Michigan law prohibits a local unit of government from banning the possession of firearms.

“The Legislature has the authority to preempt school districts from adopting policies like the ones at issue that regulate firearms on school property. However, not only has the Legislature not done so, it has expressed its intent not to preempt such regulation,” the court’s opinion read.

Brad Banasik, legal counsel for the Michigan Association of School Boards, said the court’s ruling hasn’t really changed anything other than supporting and upholding the authority of school districts to adopt such policies.

“We respect the court’s decision and following their rules and precedent, but on the same token we certainly don’t want additional lawsuits filed against school districts,” Banasik said. “We believe there is no place for firearms on school property, outside of the very limited exceptions that are included in the law.”

Although it won’t be a violation of state law for an individual openly carry a firearm on school property, districts can enforce their policies through trespass violations or other ordinances regulating unauthorized persons on school grounds.

Nick Ceglarek, Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District superintendent, said there has been some confusion around the law and that there is still some trepidation despite the court’s decision.

“Districts are always cautious in establishing policy that may run counter to established laws. When there’s question or indecision, we rely on court rulings,” Ceglarek said. “Each local district is going to have to decide how they’re going to approach this. Even if there is a chance a district is opening itself up to litigation, I think there’s substantial cover based on the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

Justice Kurtis Wilder said in his dissent that it is only a question of when—if—this matter is brought before the court again.

“In order to fully resolve the ultimate issue before us ... it is necessary to determine whether those policies are in conflict with one or more statutes enacted by the Legislature,” Wilder wrote. “The majority has provided only partial guidance and left lingering doubts.”

Traverse City Area Public Schools dealt with the issue in 2014 when someone attended a board meeting legally carrying a firearm.

“When you see someone carrying a gun into a meeting, it raises your awareness level and then you come to grips with the fact that it’s legal,” TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma said. “What can you do? There’s not a lot of discussion to have at that point.”

Soma has been outspoken against allowing guns on school grounds, but he said the current policies have worked out well for both sides.

“We’ve kind of settled into a pretty reasonable spot in having established a policy and practice that was respectful of the laws on the books and did the best job of creating a safe and secure environment,” he said. “Who wants to keep getting into those kind of battles when we’ve found a reasonable and respectful place that advocates on both sides have accepted?”

Copyright (c) 2018, The Record-Eagle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Opinion ‘We Cannot Stop a Bullet’: A Principal Demands Better Gun Laws
When guns are easily accessible, not even the Secret Service can prevent every threat. Why would we expect teachers to do better?
Tracey Runeare
5 min read
A tangled jumbled line leads from a moment of impact to a clear conclusion: a ban symbol.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School Climate & Safety Roads Around Schools Are Unsafe, Principals Say. Here's What to Do About It
Traffic conditions aren't fully within school leaders' control. But there are still steps schools can take to help students arrive safely.
4 min read
Focus is on a flashing school bus stop sign in the foreground as a group of schoolchildren cross a parking lot with the help of a crossing guard in the distance.
School Climate & Safety Video Should Teachers Carry Guns? How Two Principals Answer This Question
One has two armed school employees. The other thinks arming teachers is a bad idea.
4 min read
People hold signs in the gallery against a bill that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session in the House chamber on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
People hold signs in the gallery against a bill that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session in the House chamber on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
George Walker IV/AP
School Climate & Safety Former Uvalde Police Chief Indicted Over Response to Robb Elementary Shooting
The former chief and another former officer face felony charges of child endangerment and abandonment.
3 min read
Flowers are placed around a welcome sign outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, to honor the victims killed in Tuesday's shooting at the school.
Flowers are placed around a welcome sign outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, to honor the victims killed in the shooting at the school.
Jae C. Hong/AP