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Appeals Court Holds That Districts May Ban Open Carry in Schools

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, Dec. 21, 2016

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeals heard oral arguments regarding two cases—both involving the open carry of firearms in a school zone by concealed pistol licensees. The first case involved the Clio Area School District while the second involved Ann Arbor Public Schools. MASB’s Legal Team was invited to file an opinion brief on behalf of AAPS, which it did. Written opinions were issued for both cases on Thursday, Dec. 15; a remarkable two-day turnaround. In both cases, the Court essentially upheld the rights of school districts to ban guns on school property.

The issue in these two matters stems from the perceived “loophole” that exists in Michigan’s current legislation regarding gun-free zones, pistol-free zones, weapon-free school zones and concealed pistol license rules with the upshot being that open-carry advocates had to make a cogent legal argument that individuals who possess a CPL are legally allowed to openly carry a pistol on public school grounds. The burden of proof was in their hands. As judicial precedent for this argument, the gun lobby relied upon a 2012 Michigan Court of Appeals case involving Lansing’s Capital Area District Library. In that case, the Appeals Court found that libraries as “quasi-municipal corporations” qualify as “local units of government” and are therefore subject to MCL 123.1102, which expressly prohibits the enactment of any regulation relating to the possession of firearms by “a local unit of government.”

The open-carry plaintiffs in both the Clio and Ann Arbor cases essentially argued that this same rationale also applies to public schools. In the Clio matter, the presiding circuit court judge agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling that the Legislature evidently did not see fit to completely ban individuals from possessing firearms on school property and that school districts are prohibited from enacting any policy that would likewise prohibit such. In the Ann Arbor matter, the presiding circuit court judge sided with the district and dismissed the plaintiffs’ case, essentially upholding the district’s right to develop and enforce its own weapons-free policies. Both cases were appealed, but were not consolidated; rather, each case was heard individually, in succession.

On appeal, the Court found that, in both matters, public school districts are not “local units of government,” hence the 2012 CADL ruling that allowed for the open carry of firearms in libraries did not apply. Per the Court, “school districts are not formed, organized or operated by cities, villages, townships or counties, but exist independently of those bodies” and therefore do not qualify as “local units of government,” as the term is used in the law that prohibits such entities from enacting their own ordinances regarding firearms (MCL 123.1102).

The Court further examined the primary law at issue, MCL 28.425o, and contrary to the interpretation advanced by open-carry advocates, determined that this statute imposes a blanket prohibition on carrying a concealed pistol on school grounds, subject only to certain limited exceptions. The Court held that the statute does not prohibit additional regulations imposed by individual districts, nor does it declare an express “preemption” by the Michigan Legislature over school districts with respect to enacting their own firearms policies.

Of particular interest is the fact that the Appeals Court specifically took aim at the gun lobby’s “legislative intent” argument; i.e., that via the confluence of statutes at issue, it was the clear intent of our lawmakers to preempt a district’s ability to enact its own weapons policies. Rejecting this argument, the Court declared:

Among the statutes regulating firearms compiled by the legislative services bureau are 26 different laws specifically referencing ‘weapon-free school zones.’ These four words telegraph an unmistakable objective regarding guns and schools; indeed, we find it hard to imagine a more straightforward expression of legislative will. The Legislature contemplated that this repeatedly invoked phrase would be interpreted to mean exactly what it says—no weapons are allowed in schools.

The MASB Legal Team will, of course, continue to monitor this matter should the plaintiffs decide to appeal either or both decisions to the Michigan Supreme Court.

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