The Republican-controlled Michigan Senate was poised Tuesday to begin passing legislation to let people with extra training carry guns inside churches, schools and other places now off limits.
The bills were expected to be approved by a committee Tuesday, two days after a gunman killed 26 people at a Texas church. The full chamber planned to vote as early as Wednesday. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation in 2012 that would have allowed concealed pistol license holders with additional training to carry in gun-free zones.
"Anybody who wants to exercise their right to protect themselves and have a firearm should be able to do that where they need to," said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof of West Olive, a sponsor of the main measure.
Gun-free zones, he said, are a "target-rich environment." He said while he had already planned to hold the hearing this week, the Texas shooting reinforced the need to proceed.
Under Michigan law, it is illegal for the nearly 618,000 people with concealed weapon permits to carry in designated gun-free zones — schools grounds, day care centers, sports arenas, large concert halls, taverns, places of worship, hospitals, college dorms or classrooms, and casinos. However, the law does not explicitly prevent them from openly carrying in those areas, which has led to lawsuits and court rulings.
The current law also gives the leaders of churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship permission to allow concealed weapons.
The Senate panel is expected to adopt a new version of the legislation that would prohibit open carry but allow concealed carry in the areas previously dubbed gun-free zones, as long as a license holder completes eight extra hours of training or is a certified firearms instructor. Private establishments that were previously gun-free zones could still prohibit guns, but public facilities could not.
Senators might give school districts the authority to prohibit teachers and staff from bringing guns inside school buildings, however.
Gun-control advocates criticized the legislation and the timing of the expected vote.After a man killed 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas last month, Meekhof said it was an "awkward time" to consider gun bills.
Emily Durbin, a psychology professor and volunteer leader of the Michigan chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, accused Meekhof of now finding the "right tragedy he can exploit to push some dangerous bills that completely upend and gut long-standing public safety protections. ... We want to keep citizen spaces free of guns."
There is no evidence, Durbin said, that letting parents or others adults be armed would make schools safer. She questioned allowing guns in taverns and stadiums that serve alcohol and said loosening gun laws leads to more gun deaths.
Groups representing school administrators urged members to call on their senator to oppose the bills. The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, encouraged people to lobby their senator to ensure that those licensed to carry firearms "are not left defenseless once they cross arbitrary thresholds into certain areas."
When Snyder vetoed the legislation nearly five years ago, he expressed concern that it would not have let public entities such as schools, day care facilities and hospitals choose to remain gun-free. A message seeking comment was left with Snyder's office.