Michigan Supreme Court hears arguments over banning guns in schools

High court took up 2 cases

The Michigan Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday afternoon in two separates cases involving guns in schools.

The cases are remarkably similar. The school boards in Ann Arbor and Clio Township enacted firearm bans on school property. In both cases, parents with concealed pistol permits who were open carrying on school grounds were told to leave school property.

The sole legal issue the Michigan Supreme Court will look at in both cases is preemption. The plaintiffs argue that the state has preempted the field of firearm regulation and the school districts cannot adopt their own stricter policies.

Under state law, Michigan schools are allowed to make their own rules about guns. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled school districts are allowed to ban guns from their buildings and ask anyone with a gun to leave. Trespassing charges can be pursued if the person does not leave the school when asked. Michigan law also allows individuals with a concealed pistol permit on school property with a gun that’s openly holstered.

RELATED: Understanding Michigan's gun laws -- not as straightforward as you might think

Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. v. Ann Arbor Public Schools

Ann Arbor Public Schools created three policies in April of 2015 banning the possession of firearms on school property and at school-sponsored activities.

  • Policy 5400 – allows board of education and superintendent ability to formulate policies and procedures to protect students and employees.
  • Policy 5410 – designates all property owned or leased by Ann Arbor Public Schools as “Dangerous Weapon and Disruption-Free Zones.”
  • Policy 5420 – bans any person in possession of a dangerous weapon from Ann Arbor Public Schools property.

The policies were passed after Joshua Wade openly carried a gun into Pioneer High School during a choir concert.

"Our teachers and school leaders have incredible responsibility already, how can we possibly determine the intention of a gun-carrier on campus, to sort out the ‘good' guys from those with malicious intent?" Superintendent Dr. Jeanice Swift said in 2015. "The presence of guns in schools runs contrary to everything we are wired for in education, and is counterproductive to maintaining a rich, productive, and healthy learning environment for our children."

Ulysses Wong, along with Michigan Gun Owners, Inc., filed a lawsuit challenging the policies shortly after they were enacted. Wong’s child attends Ann Arbor Public Schools and the suit alleged that Michigan law allows Wong to carry a pistol on school property because state law preempts a local unit of government from regulating the possession of firearms.

READ: Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. v. Ann Arbor Public Schools

Michigan Open Carry Inc v. Clio Area School District

The case from Clio Township, north of Flint, involved another parent unable to carry on school grounds and a policy enacted by the local school board.

In June of 1996, The Clio Area School District promulgated a policy banning weapons on school property.

  • Policy 7217 - "The Board of Education prohibits visitors from possessing , storing, making, or using a weapon in any setting that is under the control and supervision of the Board including, but not limited to, property leased, owned, or contracted for by the Board, a school-sponsored event, or in a Board-owned vehicle."

Kenneth Herman, a concealed pistol license carrier, attempted to visit his child's elementary school while open carrying in September 2013. He was denied access to the school multiple times over the course of a year until school officials threatened to call authorities.

Herman, along with Michigan Open Carry, Inc., filed suit against the district.

READ: Michigan Open Carry, Inc. v. Clio Area School District

Legal arguments in both cases

The state statute, MCL 123.1102, reads:

"A local unit of government shall not impose special taxation on, enact or enforce any ordinance or regulation pertaining to, or regulate in any other manner the ownership, registration, purchase, sale, transfer, transportation, or possession of pistols, other firearms, or pneumatic guns, ammunition for pistols or other firearms, or components of pistols or other firearms, except as otherwise provided by federal law or a law of this state."

The plaintiff’s in both cases relied on Capital Area District Library v. Michigan Open Carry, Inc., claiming that state law allows certain individuals to carry guns on school property and preempts any attempts by local government to regulate firearms.

Michigan law allows individuals with a concealed pistol permit on school property with a gun that’s openly holstered.

However, the trial court in the Ann Arbor case had decided the school board was not a “local unit of government” as defined by the legislature. Summary disposition was granted in favor of the school district.

In the Clio case, the trial court denied the school district's motion for summary disposition and granted declaratory relief to plaintiffs.

Both cases were appealed. In separate published opinions released on the same day, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the school districts.

In People v. Llewellyn, four factors were set fourth to question whether the Legislature intended to completely preempt the field of firearm legislation.

The court will be focusing on two appeal issues: whether it is necessary to address the Llewellyn factors in order to determine whether the school districts' policies are preempted; and if so, whether the Court of Appeals properly concluded that the Llewellyn factors did not favor preemption.

The state's top court has also allowed outside groups to file briefs in regards to the two cases. The following groups filed amicus briefs:

Watch the Michigan Supreme Court hearing for Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. v. Ann Arbor Public Schools below:

Watch the Michigan Supreme Court hearing for Michigan Open Carry Inc v. Clio Area School District below: