MASB Files Amicus Curiae Brief in Ann Arbor Public Schools Open Carry Matter

DashBoard, Sept. 22, 2015

Legal Counsel for the Michigan Association of School Boards has filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief in the pending litigation against Ann Arbor Public Schools regarding its decision to ban all firearms on school premises. The plaintiffs in the matter, Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. and Ulysses Wong, argue that Ann Arbor’s decision to institute such a policy is contrary to Michigan law, which they contend allows for the open carry of a firearm on school grounds by any individual who also holds a valid Concealed Pistol License.

Despite several state and federal statutes that appear to explicitly ban weapons on public school property, open carry advocates have argued that due to the specific wording of two Michigan statues (MCL 750.237a and MCL 28.425o), the law only addresses gun possession by non-CPL holders and concealed possession by those who hold a CPL, thus leaving the open carry of a gun on school property by a CPL holder an unregulated activity, and therefore legal.

Two recent legal wins for the open carry groups have served to bolster their arguments. One occurred at the Court of Appeals level in 2012 and involved a suit brought against the Capital Area District Library system in Lansing. In that case, two of three appeals court judges sided with the open carry plaintiff, holding that openly carrying guns in a public space by CPL holders had not been explicitly regulated by the Legislature; hence, the act was legal and could not be regulated by any individual policy the library may impose.

The second legal win for open carry advocates occurred last month in Clio where a circuit court judge, largely relying upon the CADL appeals court ruling, held that the ability to create local weapon policies is beyond the legal authority of local government entities, including school districts. Attention now shifts to the Ann Arbor matter, which is the most recent legal challenge to the long-standing precedent that guns are universally banned in all school facilities and that, in the absence of specific legislation, school districts have the right to set their own policies with respect to regulating dangerous weapons.

“We’ve heard from our members and, overwhelmingly, they’ve told us that guns simply have no place in our public schools,” said Don Wotruba, MASB’s Executive Director. “If the laws that are currently in place do not conclusively establish this then at the very least, each district should have the power to close this loophole by implementing their own weapons policies, as they see fit.”

“Having MASB join us on this is really important,” said attorney William Blaha, of Collins & Blaha, PC, the attorney for Ann Arbor Public Schools. “While my motion to dismiss focuses on the specific legal issues involving my clients and the direct ramifications a negative ruling might have on Ann Arbor schools and the Ann Arbor community, MASB was able to address the broader policy implications at stake for the entire state, as well as add some additional, well-reasoned ‘common sense’ type arguments.”

In particular, both Mr. Blaha and MASB have highlighted the concept of local control and how important it is that individual school districts throughout the state retain the ability to set policies that are tailored to their particular communities. “When it comes to issues of student and faculty safety, what’s right for one community in one part of the state may not be right for another community in another part of the state,” noted MASB Assistant Legal Counsel Joel Gerring. “We cannot afford to allow a precedent wherein these types of decisions are taken out of the hands of the local school board and are instead made in Lansing.”

“According to the judge in Clio, administrators currently have the power to tell a visitor that they cannot bring a bag of peanuts into a school, but have no power to tell that same individual, if they happen to possess a CPL, they cannot bring in a loaded pistol," Gerring added. "We don’t believe that such a ruling makes sense from a policy standpoint, much less from a common sense standpoint.”

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