By Lauren N. Shields
The Meridian Times
The first time Nick Johnston shot a gun was when he was 3 years old. By the age of 12, Johnston started to learn how to take guns apart and put them back together. At age 16, he was able to start making guns for himself. Johnston, now 24, has his concealed pistol license (CPL) and is the vice president of his grandfather’s company, Ultimate Firearms in Okemos. Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, he is also the owner of Johnston Firearms in Okemos as well as an Alaskan hunting guide.
In early March, the police were called on a man openly carrying a firearm into Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor during an evening choir concert. According to Michigan law, because the man had a CPL, he is allowed to open carry into the school. Shortly after this incident, Ann Arbor public schools drafted a gun-control resolution to prohibit the open carry of firearms in gun-free zones, with the exception of law enforcement officials. Johnston disagreed with this resolution.
“I believe you shouldn’t take away something that somebody went to achieve,” said Johnston. “I don’t think it is going to do that much more for safety because, say you pass this law and everybody that was going to carry guns is no longer allowed to carry guns, but the person that wants to carry a gun in there anyway is not going to be stopped.”
The resolution stated that not only was its goal to close what it referred to as the “CPL open carry loophole,” but also that the process of obtaining a CPL was becoming easier. The loophole addressed by Ann Arbor refers to the Michigan law that, according to Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shannon Banner, CPL holders are only prohibited from carrying a concealed pistol on school property. Meaning, anyone with a CPL is allowed to openly carry a gun onto school property and other otherwise designated gun-free zones.
According to Johnston, the process of obtaining a CPL includes being taught the laws and rules of gun safety, testing, shooting on a gun range, paperwork and background checks. Also, there are two separate parts to receiving a CPL that allows a person to open carry onto otherwise gun-free zones. It is up to the CPL owners if they want to go back to the CPL licenser and undergo more extensive testing and another background check to receive these certifications. Without these measures, we would be trusting people to handle guns in any way that they see fit.
“Not everybody has the same ideals, and we need some laws to govern,” said Johnston. “We need some kind of expectation that ‘this is what we need to follow and this is how we should go about it.’ You hear about these little kids getting into their parents’ guns and either shooting holes in the house or shooting themselves or someone else. They didn’t learn the rules of guns, or they were not addressed well enough.”
The Okemos Board of Education has not discussed adoption of a gun-control resolution since its last meeting at the end of March. With a weapons policy already in place for Okemos schools, there is no urgency on the issue. According to Board of Education President Melanie Lynn, the simple passing of a resolution would not help to endorse or detract from the weight of the current policy. But, that is not to say that if the resolution encouraged the State Legislature to close this loophole, the current policy would not benefit.
“If as a result of our resolution encouraging the Legislature, if the Legislature were to advance to a law or accept the law, pass the law, then there would very likely not be a challenge, or, our policy would be backed up by law,” said Lynn.
If the board were to pass a resolution, it would simply be to encourage the State Legislature to pass a law to prohibit firearms from school grounds indefinitely. According to Okemos Board of Education Member Dean Bolton, weapons should not be allowed on school property no matter what license someone has.
“I don’t know. It is hard to say if the resolution should be passed,” said Bolton. “When we first discussed this, we were looking at it from a different district. If there are indeed loopholes that exist at the state level, I would support the State Legislature closing that loophole. But we haven’t decided anything at this point.”
Nick Johnston’s mother, secretary of Ultimate Firearms Robin Johnston, had a divided view being both a mother and someone who has grown up around guns.
“I want people to know how to use weapons and the history, safety, and the goods and bads,” said Robin Johnston. “But I don’t know if I would feel safe if teachers had them in schools.”
According to Robin Johnston, for people to renew their CPLs they must simply take another test. She said she would feel safer if the renewal process were enhanced a little more, such as a visual confirmation of gun safety, rather than the rights of CPL owners being taken away.
The potential Okemos public schools gun-control resolution would not include prohibiting police from open-carrying within schools. But, Banner said that gun safety is critically important to the Michigan State Police.
“MSP enforcement members must take appropriate measures to ensure their firearms are safely carried, handled, and stored both on and off duty,” wrote Banner. “In order to graduate, they must meet certain standards. Additionally, all enforcement members must pass an annual firearms re-certification, which includes three required shoots and completion of a written exam.”
Haslett Board of Education member Kristin Beltzer wrote that the board is reviewing many issues including open-carry and other safety matters that impact public education and the Haslett community.
“We are communicating with our legal counsel about Michigan’s statutes regarding concealed weapons on school property, as well as closely monitoring legislation that has been introduced in the Michigan Legislature that addresses public safety,” said Beltzer.
For 68-year-old dentist John Curtis, who has been around guns all his life, he believes that there is a social stigma against guns for a certain segment of the population because of the biased news media.
“They are constantly trying to point out children who are shot with guns and how bad guns are,” said Curtis. “They make it as if guns are the problem. Obviously we have a society problem that empowers all of that.”