Understanding Michigan’s gun laws -- not as straightforward as you might think

DETROIT – One thing is clear: Michigan’s gun laws are confusing.

There are guidelines with exceptions upon exceptions, laws about different types of guns, contradicting laws about where guns can and can’t be carried, and there was even proposed legislation that, if passed, would have officially allowed people to legally carry concealed guns inside schools, churches and other pistol-free zones.

New Jan. 11, 2021: Michigan commission votes to ban open carry of guns from Capitol building

That’s right: While it’s not legal for someone to carry a concealed weapon inside a school in Michigan, the law does not prohibit a person who has a concealed pistol license (CPL) to carry a weapon out in the open inside a school. That means if you have a license to carry a concealed pistol you may carry it on your hip into a school, but it has to be in plain sight.

But wait -- there’s more: 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.

Meanwhile, the law states parents or guardians picking up kids from school are allowed to have their guns in their vehicle -- the parking lot of these gun-free zones aren't considered to be part of the premises. Read more about that right here -- MCL 28.425o.

The aforementioned bill passed by the Michigan Senate in November 2017 would have flipped the existing law, banning open-carry in no-gun zones such as schools, but allowing concealed carry. The proposal would also prevent school districts from banning concealed carry guns on school properties. The House is now considering the legislation.

The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee and hasn't had any movement since, as it faced a likely veto.

So while it's a fact that many aspects of Michigan gun laws can be described as confusing and perhaps even convoluted, here are the more straightforward facts about owning guns and carrying guns in Michigan:

Who can own a gun in Michigan?

If you're at least 18 years old it is legal to buy a pistol with a purchase license from a private seller. At age 21 it is legal to buy a firearm from a federally licensed (FFL) dealer. No purchase license is required to purchase a long gun -- a firearm that is more than 26 inches long -- in Michigan.

According to state law, a long gun may be purchased by anyone aged 18 or older who is not subject to restrictions based on criminal history, mental health history, or other disqualifying factor. A person must be at least 18 years old to purchase a long gun from a federal dealer or a private seller under Michigan law.

Open carry is legal in Michigan

This should be a well-known fact by now: Michigan is an open-carry state. What does that mean?

The Michigan State Police describe Michigan's open carry law as follows:

"In Michigan, it is legal for a person to carry a firearm in public as long as the person is carrying the firearm with lawful intent and the firearm is not concealed. You will not find a law that states it is legal to openly carry a firearm. It is legal because there is no Michigan law that prohibits it; however, Michigan law limits the premises on which a person may carry a firearm."

Here are those prohibited premises:

  • Schools or school property but may carry while in a vehicle on school property while dropping off or picking up if a parent or legal guardian
  • Public or private day care center, public or private child caring agency, or public or private child placing agency.
  • Sports arena or stadium
  • A tavern where the primary source of income is the sale of alcoholic liquor by the glass consumed on the premises
  • Any property or facility owned or operated by a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other place of worship, unless the presiding official or officials allow concealed weapons
  • An entertainment facility that the individual knows or should know has a seating capacity of 2,500 or more
  • A hospital
  • A dormitory or classroom of a community college, college, or university
  • A Casino

Again, anyone with a CPL may carry a non-concealed firearm in the above listed premises, as stated above about schools. And it's important to note a CPL holder is not required by law to carry a pistol concealed. A CPL holder may carry a pistol concealed or non-concealed.

Those nine prohibited premises are actually printed on the back of Michigan CPL holder cards:

One more note: A private property owner has the right to prohibit individuals from carrying firearms on his or her property, whether concealed or otherwise, and regardless of whether the person is a CPL holder. If a person remains on the property after being told to leave by the owner, the person may be charged with trespassing.

Can you carry a gun in your car?

Michigan has more laws about carrying guns in vehicles. The short answer is yes, you can carry a pistol in your car. The long answer is:

"A pistol transported for a 'lawful purpose' by a person not licensed to carry a concealed pistol must be all of the following:

  • Unloaded
  • In a closed case designed for firearms
  • In the trunk (or if the vehicle has no trunk, it must not be readily accessible to the occupants)"

If you don't have a CPL and you want to drive with your gun that's not a pistol, here's what the law says:

(1) Except as otherwise permitted by law, a person shall not transport or possess in or upon a motor vehicle or any self-propelled vehicle designed for land travel either of the following:

(a) A firearm, other than a pistol, unless the firearm is unloaded and is 1 or more of the following:

(i) Taken down.

(ii) Enclosed in a case.

(iii) Carried in the trunk of the vehicle.

(iv) Inaccessible from the interior of the vehicle.

(b) A pneumatic gun that expels a metallic BB or metallic pellet greater than .177 caliber unless the pneumatic gun is unloaded and is 1 or more of the following:

(i) Taken down.

(ii) Enclosed in a case.

(iii) Carried in the trunk of the vehicle.

(iv) Inaccessible from the interior of the vehicle.

(2) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 90 days or a fine of not more than $100.00, or both.

What if you have a CPL? Here's what the law says about that:

It is a felony in Michigan for a person to transport a pistol anywhere in a vehicle unless the person is licensed to carry a concealed pistol. If you have the CPL you can carry that gun loaded. Exceptions are found in MCL 750.231a.

But if you don't have the CPL, one such exception allows for transportation of pistols in a vehicle for a “lawful purpose.” A lawful purpose includes going to or from any one of the following:

  • A hunting or target area
  • A place of repair
  • Moving goods from a home or business to another home or business
  • A law enforcement agency (for a safety inspection or to turn the pistol over to the agency)
  • A gun show or place of sale or purchase
  • A public shooting facility
  • Public land where shooting is legal
  • Private property where a pistol may be lawfully used

Who can get a CPL in Michigan?

There are 15 requirements for a Michigan CPL, according to the Concealed Pistol License Guide and Application -- view here.

In short:

  • You must be 21 years old
  • You have to be a U.S. citizen or lawful immigrant alien
  • Be a resident of Michigan for at least 6 months
  • Successfully complete a piston safety training course
  • You can't be a convicted criminal
  • You can't be a fugitive
  • You cannot be diagnosed of a mental illness

You'll have to pay $115 and get fingerprints taken.

And here's a quick note about licenses and CPLs: A person with a valid Michigan CPL does not have to obtain a License to Purchase, but they still have to register the pistol after they purchase the gun or otherwise acquires it using a Pistol Sales Record.

Borrowing guns in Michigan

If you have a CPL, you can borrow a gun from another person -- in Michigan under these conditions:

An individual carrying, possessing, using, or transporting a pistol belonging to another individual, if the other individual's possession of the pistol is authorized by law and the individual carrying, possessing, using, or transporting the pistol has obtained a license under section 5b to carry a concealed pistol or is exempt from licensure as provided in section 12a.

What about people from other states?

According to state police, in order for a non-resident to possess a pistol in Michigan, he or she must either be licensed to carry a concealed pistol or be licensed by his or her state of residence to purchase, carry, or transport a pistol. The ownership of property in Michigan does not qualify a non-resident to possess a pistol in Michigan.

State police summarize:

"State law makes it legal for a non-resident of Michigan with a valid CPL issued by his or her state of residence to carry a concealed pistol in Michigan as long as the pistol is carried in conformance with any and all restrictions appearing on the license. Individuals with out of state CPLs are subject to Michigan laws that govern Michigan CPL holders."

If you want to read up about all of the Michigan firearms laws, here are “Firearms Laws of Michigan” and the Michigan State Police’s “Firearms Identification Field Guide”: