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August 1, 2011

Michigan's Rubber Stamp

Ten years after Michigan made it easier for residents to obtain concealed handgun permits, an investigation by the Center for Statistical Consultation and Research (CSCAR) has revealed numerous problems regarding the implementation of the law. Of particular concern is the inconsistent manner in which permit applicants and permit holders are screened for public safety.

Michigan’s “Shall-Issue” concealed carry law went into effect on July 1, 2001. It established “gun boards” in each of Michigan’s 83 counties “to issue, deny, revoke, or suspend a license to carry a concealed pistol.” The boards are required to issue a concealed handgun permit to any applicant who is at least 21 years of age, completes an eight-hour safety course (with three hours on the firing range), and meets a basic set of criteria in terms of criminal and mental health background.

Michigan residents are having few problems in meeting these criteria. The CSCAR investigation found that “the number of permit holders [in Michigan] is skyrocketing,” with more than 270,000 Michiganders holding permits today—twice as many as just five years ago.

The problems lie in the oversight of the permitting system. Each year, gun boards are supposed to submit a report to state police detailing permit applications (issued, pending and denied) and detailing any criminal charges against existing permit holders. But since the law was enacted, 43 of Michigan’s 83 counties have yet to file a single report. This has prohibited the Michigan State Police from discharging their duty to provide a complete annual report with these statistics to the state legislature. For example, during one recent year in Genessee County, the following incidents went unreported to the State Police: “a fatal shooting, a federal drug indictment, reckless use of a firearm and 61 other crimes.”

Other serious problems with the permitting system have been identified. Permits are given to applicants before criminal and/or mental health disqualifications expire; permit holders are mistakenly given exemptions to carry handguns in sensitive gun-free zones; and permits that have been properly denied are suddenly approved without any clear reason.

The CSCAR investigation has revealed several alarming cases in which concealed handgun permit holders committed horrific acts of gun violence:

This blatant abuse of the law should have lawmakers worried. But when former state Senator Mike Green (R-Mayville)—the original sponsor of Michigan’s “Shall-Issue” law—was told some of the non-reporting counties are from his area, he responded, “I’m glad you told me that. I know those guys,” and laughed.

Prosecutors in Michigan have taken a different tone. Juris Kaps, a prosecutor in Van Buren County, refused to sit on his gun board, saying, “I have a lot of things to do and I’ve got better things to do than be a rubber stamp.” Kaps expressed concern about “the absence of a true check on [an applicant’s] mental health” and didn’t want to “get into a situation where [his] stamp of approval is on someone who is mentally deranged.”

We are constantly told by the National Rifle Association and its gun lobby partners that concealed handgun permit holders are the most “law-abiding citizens” in America. It’s now abundantly clear that such a guarantee holds little or no weight in Michigan.

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