DETROIT — Lawyers for gun owners urged the Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday to stop schools from banning the open carry of guns by visitors, a controversy that will test the ability of school boards to set their own safety policies.
The Ann Arbor and Clio districts have adopted sweeping anti-weapon policies, despite a state law that allows certain licensed gun owners to openly carry a pistol on public school property.
"School districts do not have the ability to make law," said Dean Greenblatt, an attorney representing a Clio-area man who would like to openly carry his gun when he visits his daughter's school.
Another lawyer, James Makowski, accused the state appeals court of "legislating from the bench" by allowing the Ann Arbor school board to carve out its own restrictions. He said local governments, including elected school boards, must defer to the Legislature on gun issues.
The questioning by Supreme Court justices was dominated by Chief Justice Stephen Markman. He repeatedly referred to a sentence in state law that says school gun prohibitions don't apply to people who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon.
Instead of concealing the gun, they can carry it openly at schools.
"I don't mean to be flippant about this, but I don't understand why that isn't perhaps the beginning, the middle and even perhaps conceivably the end of the argument," Markman told William Blaha, a lawyer for Ann Arbor schools.
Earlier, Blaha told the court that Michigan lawmakers could have barred schools from regulating guns but didn't specifically mention them. Justice Richard Bernstein seemed to like that argument, saying, "We are by nature a strict constructionist court."
Justice Bridget McCormack, who has a son at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, suggested there's room for schools to set restrictions. The Ann Arbor policy was adopted in 2015 after a concert spectator with a gun frightened the audience at Pioneer.
"State law says it's not a crime for somebody to carry a gun," McCormack said. "The policy can still say, 'But we don't want you on our property if you're doing it.' ... So where's the conflict?"
An attorney for Clio schools, Timothy Mullins, was the last to speak. He tried to pick up on a question by Bernstein to another lawyer about the practical effect of an administrator seeing an unfamiliar visitor approaching a school with a gun.
"You're going to have pandemonium. Then you're going to have confrontation," Mullins said. "And what comes from confrontation? Tragedy."