Guns in schools? The Supreme Court has said schools have some choice in the matter. | Michigan Radio
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Guns in schools? The Supreme Court has said schools have some choice in the matter.

Apr 10, 2018

Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in what seems certain to be the highest-profile case it will hear this year.

The question is whether the state’s public schools can, regardless of what the legislature says, outlaw or otherwise restrict guns in schools. Currently, state law allows someone with a concealed pistol permit to enter a school with an openly holstered gun.

This case stems from an incident three years ago, in which Joshua Wade, an Ann Arbor gun rights activist, openly carried a handgun at his sister’s concert at Pioneer High School. The choir director called police, who came, but couldn’t remove him, because he had a Concealed Pistol License. State law says that people with these licenses are allowed to carry them in “pistol-free zones,” but that they have to display them.

Excuse me while I fight the temptation to again quote Charles Dickens’s observation in Oliver Twist that occasionally, “the law is an ass.”

Evidently some people were made uncomfortable by an armed jerk at a children’s choir concert. I’d call them, normal people. The Ann Arbor Board of Education then unanimously voted to ban dangerous weapons from school property.

They were then sued by a group called Michigan Gun Owners. A Washtenaw County judge found in favor of the schools’ right to ban guns. The gun owners appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals also found in favor of the schools.

The appeals court also overturned a lower court and said that the Clio School District in Genesee County could ban guns as well. But the cases were then appealed to the state supreme court, which could have let the appeals court decisions stand. But they decided to hear these cases. This is something that was bound to happen.

We live in the age of the firearms fanatics, and they won’t be happy unless we all acknowledge that no law can prevent anyone from bringing a loaded assault rifle into an emergency room or a kindergarten.

But in my opinion, the law here is very clear. If you passed your high school civics class, you should remember that federal law always trumps state law, and that they call it the U.S. Supreme Court for a reason. And ten years ago, our highest court did in fact rule, 5 to 4, in District of Columbia v Heller, that people have a constitutional right to possess guns.

That would seem to settle that. But we often forget that the Supreme Court also went out of its way to affirm that this right is not unlimited. Let me quote one of the justices:

“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”

What I just read you was not, by the way, from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent. Those are words from the late Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion affirming the basic right to carry a gun. By the way, Scalia also said it was perfectly fine to ban the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons, and to consider prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons.

The Supreme Court’s most conservative justice would have believed Ann Arbor schools have every right to do what they did. Let’s hope the Michigan Supreme Court sensibly agrees.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.