Ten years after Michigan made it much easier for its citizens to get a license to carry a concealed gun, predictions of widespread lawless behavior and bloodshed have failed to materialize.
Today, nearly 276,000 — or about four out of every 100 eligible adult Michiganders — are licensed.
That’s more than twice the number predicted when the debate raged over whether Michigan should join the growing ranks of so-called “shall issue” states.
Before July 1, 2001, applicants had to prove why they needed to carry a gun for protection. Since then, any nominally sane adult without a felony record qualifies.
During the debate, opponents of the change warned of gun-toting, trigger-happy citizens loose on the streets.
But violent crimes have been rare among carrying a concealed weapon license holders. Only 2% of license holders have been sanctioned for any kind of misbehavior, State Police records show.
Still, anti-gun activists say changing the law was a grave mistake. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence Web site describes state reforms like the one enacted in Michigan as “a recipe for disaster.”
Michigan’s prosecuting attorneys association led the push against changing the law in 2001. Today, Ionia County Prosecutor Ronald Schafer, president of the group, says it’s hard to remember what the fuss was about.
“I think you can look back and say, ‘It was a big nothing.’ ”
Concealed weapons haven’t changed state much, both sides of debate say
It was only 10 years ago. But it seems more like another lifetime, when one of the biggest issues facing Michigan’s politicians and the public was whether to make it easier for ordinary citizens to obtain permits to carry concealed weapons.
At the time, advocates and opponents raged, hurling arguments about bedrock constitutional freedoms and Columbine massacres on every corner.
The reformers — who wanted Michigan to join the growing number of states where carrying a concealed gun is the right of any nominally sane adult without a felony record — sneaked the legislation through in a lame duck session (and managed to immunize it from potential referendum). They predicted it would usher in a new era of civility as criminals came to realize they weren’t the only ones on the street packing heat.
The opponents gnashed teeth about an impending bloodbath.
By nearly all accounts, not much.
The number of citizens issued Concealed Pistol Licenses has soared. In 2001 when the law took effect, about 52,000 people were authorized to carry concealed weapons in Michigan (in most counties, permits were limited to retired police officers and those deemed by authorities to have a need, such as cash couriers).
Since then, the number has grown to nearly 276,000.
But the effects on Michigan’s civil society appear to have been far less dramatic.
Whether licensing more people to carry concealed weapons results in more or less violent crime remains debatable. Michigan still has more than its fair share of crime, even as overall crime rates have mostly declined. But it’s difficult to argue that CCWs have much impact either way.
Paul Long, president of the Michigan Catholic Conference, was part of the vocal opposition to CCW reform in 2001. He helped organize church-related participation in a petition drive aimed at repealing the law (the one short-circuited by a provision in the CCW legislation that made it referendum-proof).
But asked last week about his current views, Long said, “In all honesty, I don’t give it much thought. It just hasn’t been much of an issue.”
One factor contributing to the decline in the focus on gun regulations was everything that happened in the intervening years. Months after Michigan enacted more permissive CCW licensing, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks stunned the country. The country went to war and later into an economic tailspin.
“There haven’t been as many incidents as we feared,” said Tom Hendrickson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, which vigorously opposed the reforms.
“It really hasn’t been an issue … because so many superseding issues came along,” he said. “In the total scheme of things, it just faded away.”
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said he has always been a proponent of people being able to protect themselves. The troublemakers, generally, aren’t the people who go through the process to legally own and carry a gun — it’s the people who carry illegally who cause problems, he said.
“My position was, and still is, is that the people we have a problem with with guns aren’t the people who are willing to follow the law and go through the hoops and training,” Bouchard said.
Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon said he had been opposed to the law and was concerned about flooding the streets with guns. But, he said, “it has turned out not as bad as I suspected that it would.”
Napoleon said he would like to see expanded training for people seeking concealed weapons permits.
Advocates for concealed carry rights contend they have been vindicated. Violent crime is down, said Steve Dulan, a board member for the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners.
CCW holders, in the aggregate, have been shown to be more law-abiding than the broader public, he said.
“The debate is pretty much over, and we won,” Dulan said.
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie wouldn’t go that far. Mackie opposed the 2001 law, and resigned from the county gun board so that he wouldn’t be put in the position of authorizing permits for applicants he considered sketchy.
But, on balance, “we’ve done better than I thought,” Mackie said, “We’ve had far fewer violations by (permit) holders than I feared we would.”
Mackie would still like to see more effective procedures to screen for mental instability among applicants.
Ionia County Prosecutor Ronald Schafer said the raging debate that preceded enactment of the new CCW law appears, in retrospect, to have been a little overwrought.
“We were all a little too caught up imagining what might happen,” he said.