With the shock of the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school still fresh on the nation's conscience and protests and vigils by clergy and others closer to home, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have allowed Michigan gun owners with extra training to carry concealed weapons in schools, day care centers, churches and stadiums.
The veto comes just five days after the bill passed in the final, frenetic day of the state Legislature's lame-duck session that ran from 10 a.m. Thursday until about 4:30 a.m. Friday. That was about five hours before a heavily armed Adam Lantz, 20, got into Sandy Hook Elementary School and gunned down 20 young students and six adults.
The gunman also killed his mother at their home, before committing suicide as police converged on the school.
Snyder acknowledged Tuesday that the Newtown killings factored into his decision.
"This type of violence often leaves society with more questions than answers," Snyder said. "The reasons for such appalling acts usually are numerous and complex. With that in mind, we must consider legislation like" Senate Bill 59 "in a holistic manner."
He said that school security measures in Michigan needed a thorough review. He also wants to find a way to better incorporate community mental health workers into schools.
Snyder also said in his veto letter to the Legislature that the bill had a fatal loophole that didn't allow for those public institutions -- schools, churches, day care centers and stadiums -- to opt out of the new legislation and prohibit weapons from their buildings. The law specifically addressed only private buildings.
"I believe that it is important that these public institutions have clear legal authority to ban weapons from their premises," he said in his letter. "Each is entrusted with the care of a vulnerable population and should have the authority to determine whether its mission would be enhanced by the addition of concealed weapons."
One of the lesser-discussed aspects of SB 59, however, was that it repealed a law that allowed people to carry their weapons openly in no-carry zones such as schools and churches. With the veto, that law still stands.
Snyder did sign into law a pair of bills that streamline the process of purchasing and permitting handguns, including transferring the authority to get a concealed-weapons permit from a gun licensing board to the county sheriff.
Another bill requires the Michigan State Police, rather than local law enforcement, to maintain purchase and permitting records.
That bill was cited by the State Police as a crucial element in the agency's ability to find a possible suspect in the I-96 corridor shootings case. Police said they matched a suspect using information obtained from bullets and fragments and purchase records.
State Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, the sponsor of the legislation, said the veto leaves the state with a confusing patchwork of laws that will still allow people with little training to carry weapons openly in the formerly forbidden areas.
"The message being sent to law-abiding folks with a license now is that if you wish to protect yourselves and your families from tragedy in these areas, you'll have to carry openly without additional training," he said. "I am deeply disappointed."
But church, education and medical groups that had opposed the legislation, even before the Newtown shootings, were thrilled that Snyder killed the bill.
A Tuesday vigil outside the governor's office in Lansing by a coalition of congregations from across the state that opposed the legislation turned into celebration of the veto and a prayer meeting for victims of gun violence.
"We stand with the governor and support his decision," said Pastor Ben Sandin of the King of Kings Lutheran Church in Shelby Township. "But it's also important for us to pray for all the people who have been affected by violence, and we stand with those whose lives have been upturned."
Denise Sloan of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics congratulated Snyder for "his efforts to protect the children of the state of Michigan."
"We'll also continue to work with him to examine the state of mental health services," she added.
Macomb County Sheriff Tony Wickhersham, who opposed the legislation, said that especially in light of the Newtown shootings, "I don't think anyone wants a gun anywhere near a school."
Gun rights advocates, however, said they hope the legislation will be brought up again, soon into the new year.
"If a few of the teachers and staff at that school had been armed, how would have things turned out differently? That's got to be part of the conversation," said former state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, who sponsored a bill when he was in the Legislature that would have allowed teachers and other staff to carry their weapons into schools. "I would hope the Legislature would take a new look at the bill and see if it could be modified and passed."
On the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners Facebook page, nearly 200 people had commented within an hour of Snyder sending his veto letter to the Legislature. The group supported SB 59. Most excoriated the governor for his actions and promised not to support him if he runs for re-election in 2014.
"He is for sure a one-termer now. He may have been able to survive this right-to-work and win a second term, but not now," one Facebook poster said. "He pissed the other half off now, too."
Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D-Detroit, gave the governor credit for vetoing the bill.
"Gov. Rick Snyder made the right call in vetoing a bill that would have allowed concealed weapons into schools, day care centers, hospitals and places of worship," Jackson's statement said. "In light of the tragic loss of children's lives in Connecticut, this was simply not the time to recklessly advance the expansion of concealed weapons in Michigan.
"Instead, our policies should focus on improving the safety of our children and the quality of their schools, including the provision of mental health care to our kids who need it."
Detroit Free Press