Student groups sponsor debate on whether guns should be in schools



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

A balanced panel of two Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School professors composed the panel for a discussion on “Should Open Carry Be Allowed in Public Schools?” One of the panelists is an expert on firearms issues, the other on education law.

Last Wednesday’s event on the Grand Rapids campus was hosted by the Law School’s Children’s Law Society, whose President Demar Sheffey opened the discussion and Vice-President Jada Manggrum moderated, and the Student Federal Bar Association.

Panelist and Adjunct Professor Steven Dulan also has a solo private practice, The Law Offices of Steven W. Dulan, in East Lansing, and is widely acknowledged as an expert advocate for maintaining the right of individuals to carry guns.

In fact, Dulan is the attorney for the plaintiff in one of the cases that came under discussion, in which an Ann Arbor resident filed a lawsuit in the Court of Claims against the University of Michigan’s denying him the right to a permit to open-carry a gun on campus.

Dulan has also appeared on national television shows regarding firearms and comments frequently for statewide news sources.

AT?WMU-Cooley, Dulan teaches a gun control seminar among other subjects; he also is a gun safety instructor, in part through his role in the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners.

He has also taught at Lansing Community College, Baker University, Cleary University, and Adrian College. A former sergeant in the U.S. Army and currently a Fellow of the George Romney Institute for Law and Public Policy, Dulan received his J.D. from Thomas M. Cooley Law School after graduating from Michigan State University.

David Tarrien also took his law degree from Cooley Law School, as well as a B.A. from Concordia College and an M.A. from Western Michigan University.

Formerly with the ARC of Kent County, Tarrien joined WMU-Cooley’s faculty in 2013. He also serves on several boards associated with special education, such as the Dyslexia Center of West Michigan and Arts in Motion, and founded the Friends of Dyslexia Education for West Michigan Children.

In addition to Education Law and Special Education Law, Prof. Tarrien teaches Research and Writing, Federal Disability Law, Advanced Writing and other classes. He makes frequent presentations on education, and has contributed to special education publications.

Tarrien began his remarks by praising Dulan, saying, “To share the stage with an individual who has dedicated much of his professional life and his expertise to talking about these issues is a privilege.”

There were many points of agreement between Dulan and Tarrien, chief among them the desire to have safe schools, particularly should an active shooter scenario come to pass.

Where they differed primarily was in the potential role of an armed “good guy” during a gun violence situation. Dulan’s contention was that if schools remain gun-free zones, there would in theory be no one there to defend against an armed “bad guy.”

Tarrien said he feared that most people who are Concealed Pistol License (CPL) holders lack the experience to be effective. “The person doesn’t just have to be a good guy but more like a superhero,” Tarrien said. “Not only do you have to be a good shot, you also have to be a crisis evaluator and manager in a very heated situation in order to take the bad guy out without collateral damage, or least minimizing collateral damage.”

Dulan countered that the requirements to receive a CPL are stringent, involving actual shooting skills and many hours of education with high standards for passing a final test.

Tarrien quoted some telling statistics. The FBI reported that of 161 active shooting situations between 2000 and 2013, 130 were de-escalated by law enforcement, 21 by unarmed citizens, six by security guards or off duty police officers, and only one by a CPL holder.

He also found that a survey of the authors of 1200 articles published since 2011 in peer-reviewed journals found that 62% of them disagreed with the statement that permissive concealed carry laws reduced crime — and only 9% agreed.
“All this suggests to me that guns in citizen's hands is not an effective answer or response to the problem,” Tarrien said in a later interview.

As Wednesday’s discussion took place, the most recent incident of multi-victim violence in a public place, that in San Bernardino County, was developing — an irony that was not lost on the participants or audience members. Some asked Dulan and Tarrien if there was evidence that banning guns entirely would help avoid such loss of life, but the two produced differing statistics, and as reflected in society at large, there was no agreement.

The two did agree, however, that current court cases in Michigan, including the U?of M case  where Dulan represents the plaintiff, are likely to be resolved at the level of the state Supreme Court.

The three cases have met with different judgments at the trial court level. At issue is whether the fact that, whereas statute holds that local government entities may not prohibit people’s legally carrying guns, schools are not listed in the statute’s definitions of local government entities. Since schools are charged with providing for safety while students are at school, there has been the presumption that they may establish such zones.

In a case involving Clio School District, sued by a father who brought his gun to school while picking up his child, the courts decided that that is not a valid presumption. Judges in a similar case against the Ann Arbor School District, and the University of Michigan case detailed above, decided the opposite way.

It is possible for Michigan legislators to clear this up, but so far attempts have not met with success. Sweeping changes to the CPL process, moving it from county gun boards to the Michigan State Police, were effective Dec. 1.

Though current law clearly bans concealed carrying in gun free zones, open carry is not mentioned by name, so the question of whether it is legal or not remains. Legislation has been introduced (Senate Bills 442 and 561) to allow concealed carry, while actually banning open carry, but since Gov. Rick Snyder has said he will veto it as he did similar legislation in 2012, the bills will probably die.

“While this area of law is currently in flux, the public policy arguments favoring armed citizens are sound,” Dulan in a later statement reiterating his position. “While my opponent and I agree on our hope for more safety, it turns out that putting a ‘No Gun’s sign up doesn’t actually ensure there won’t be guns there. In fact, it turns that place into a Mass Murder Empowerment Zone.

“There are nearly 500,00 Concealed Pistol Licensees in Michigan... and we have an exemplary record over the 15 years data has been collected... There is no logical reason to exclude us from any specific areas unless the area is secured by metal detectors and armed guards.

“The only impact of laws that disarm citizens anywhere is to deny them their basic right to self-defense, while violent criminals are free to commit crimes without worry about an immediate response.”

But Tarrien argued, “The right to bear arms is a fundamental right, but like free speech not an absolute right. We grant that when such rights start to infringe on vulnerable citizens such as children we can regulate them in some ways. Gun free zones seem to me to be a reasonable time-place-manner restriction.”