GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - When Nicholas Looman walked into Aberdeen Elementary School in Grand Rapids Tuesday to vote in the primary, he was armed with a pistol strapped to his side in plain view.
A school employee spotted him as he left, took Looman into an office and called the police. But Looman was not arrested because he has a Concealed Pistol License.
After investigating for a few days, the Kent County Prosecutor's Office decided not to press any charges against the 25-year-old Grand Rapids resident.
The Grand Rapids Public Schools issued a statement acknowledging Looman's right to carry the weapon inside the school. ( The full text of their statement is at the bottom of this article.)
The open carry of firearms is permitted in Pistol Free Zones by holders of a valid Concealed Pistol License (CPL.) In most of those zones, the owners of those buildings can simply post a sign prohibiting guns, if they wish.
But schools might not have that ability.
"We are dealing with an interaction of two statutes that were made about 70 years apart," said Steve Dulan of the Michigan Coalition of Responsibile Gun Owners.
The first statute says anyone in Michigan who is at least 18 may open-carry a legally registered handgun anywhere except a Pistol Free Zone. Those zones include schools, bars sports arenas and places of worship.
It also excludes anyone who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
The second law expanded the rights of concealed permit holders but does not allow them to carry a concealed weapon in those same zones.
Since concealed pistol licensees are exempt from the first law - and the second only addresses concealed weapons - the combination of the two laws has come to mean that a person who holds a valid CPL can open-carry anywhere.
"So the prohibition from carrying a weapon on school property only applies if you are carrying it concealed," said Michigan State Police Lt. Matt Bolger. So in a nutshell a person with "a concealed pistol license is not prohibited by either act from carrying open on school property"
Phillip Hofmeister, the president of MichiganOpenCarry.org , said, "You can basically open-carry anywhere in Michigan as long as you have a CPL. That includes bars, restaurants sports stadiums churches, the whole works."
But churches bars and sports arenas have a choice that public schools may not.
"Then there is this section of law that prohibits the regulation of a local unit of government on guns," Lt. Bolger said. Whether a school is a local unit of government "is actually a bit of an open question and I don't know the answer to that one, because we have a preemption statute in Michigan that says no unit of local government can make gun law."
That lists local units of government as cities, township and counties. It does not mention school districts.
State Rep. Brandon Dillon told 24 Hour News 8 this unintended consequence of the law may actually force schools to accept the fact that there is nothing that can be done.
"I am not a supporter of allowing people to carry guns on school property," he said. "This may be beyond their control and whether or not it is something that we have to take up in the legislature remains to be seen. I don't know if there is a lot of support for doing this."
Since the case law is not yet determined by the courts, Dulan advises CPL holders to consider the potential consequences when they choose to open-carry
"These are the areas where you might be taking a chance and you might find yourself running into a situation where you might become a test case," he said.
There is a Lansing case involving the Capitol Area District Library from 2011. In that case, the Ingham County Circuit Court judge ruled the library district could prohibit guns even though the district was created by Ingham County and City of Lansing. That case is now headed for the Court of Appeals.
The full text of the statement from GRPS:
"We want to thank Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth for his thorough review. We want to thank Mr. Looman for his understanding and cooperation on Tuesday. And we also want to thank one of the members of the Michigan Open Carry Association for a healthy and constructive dialogue that occurred on this issue as well.
"It appears that both the district and Mr. Looman were ultimately right on this issue. The Concealed Pistrol License law and specifically the open carry portion confirm Mr. Looman's right to open carry on school grounds. At the same time, based on a legal opinion received by the district, GRPS followed the law and the statewide School Safety Response Guide that requires staff to contact the police when a weapon is on school property.
"The Grand Rapids Police Department also followed the law by requesting and verifying Mr. Looman's license to carry.
"The issue of open carry and concealed weapons is a highly sensitive issue, one that is not fully understood by many. Any time you have weapons in school - legally or not - it poses a great challenge for school
staff and invokes a wide variety of reactions from students, parents, and staff.
"The safety and security of our students and staff is and must always be a top priority. But we also have an obligation as educators to approach all things from a teaching and learning standpoint and to honor and respect all view points as well as the Constitution and laws that govern our state and country.
"To that end, our leadership team will be working on district wide communications to ensure all individuals are clearly aware of the law and how to respond. We also are asking the state Legislature to take a hard look at the law on this and to take the necessary action not only to ensure clarity, but also to honor and respect the need for schools to be weapons free zones so as to ensure that this matter is clear, cut and dry."
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