Crossing guard continues gun carry fight
HARBOR BEACH — A school crossing guard employed by the city armed herself with information and brought back up to a city council administrative committee meeting Monday night.
Casey Armitage told the committee she called multiple municipalities in the area, and of those she could reach, Harbor Beach is the only one with a policy forbidding employees to carry a firearm.
She said she was able to confirm that Bad Axe, Caseville, Cass City, Owendale, Pigeon, Elkton, Port Austin and Sebewaing do not have an employee policy regarding firearms. Her calls were not answered or returned by Port Hope, Ubly, Bay Port and Fairhaven and Kinde.
She added Huron County is also silent regarding employees carrying firearms, except for prohibiting weapons inside the county building.
When, during the Sept. 6 city council meeting, she first asked the council to consider allowing employees with a license to carry a concealed pistol to do so while on the job, city leaders cited liability and the potential for an insurance hike as reasons to forbid the practice.
After extensive research, Armitage said she found that fear is baseless.
“None of these municipalities are reporting insurance rate hikes. No one from any of these other municipalities had ever thought of making further restrictions on the law already provided by the state and federal government. So I say to you the Council, you prove to me that the liability insurance will be affected. I have found no cause for concern. So far I have found most local governments allow their employees with a valid CPL to carry while on duty,” she said.
Her argument was backed by members of Michigan Open Carry, Inc., who were each openly carrying a handgun on their hip.
According to the group’s website, the organization aims to “demonstrate to the public at large that gun owners are one of the most lawful segments of society and they have nothing to fear from the lawful carry of a firearm.”
Greg O’Neill, the south east regional coordinator for Michigan Open Carry, Inc., said Michigan law permits municipalities to forbid employees carrying a gun while working, but the law doesn’t state such a policy must be in place.
“A lot of emotion gets brought up when we talk about firearms and lawful carry and children. Casey is trying to provide a level of protection for those children, where maybe the police cannot be there at that particular time. She’s just one more element in that level as, quote, unquote, a first responder,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Al Kleinknecht was familiar with the law, MCL 123.1103 3b. He said council members depended on it when voting to change the policy.
“The biggest fear we had is that we were stepping on your rights, and I guess until we found something that prevented that, it was close. If we wouldn’t have been able to find a reason or something where the state says we are not violating your rights, it would have went the other way,” he said.
Armitage said the law was put in place in the 1990s, when Michigan had a Democratic governor, and it does infringe on peoples’ right to bear arms.
“The law is written to provide you with the ability to choose to exercise that or not,” she said.
Mayor Gary Booms said despite Armitage’s personal opinion, the law gives the city the right to prevent her from carrying a gun while working.
“We’re within our rights, and you are within your rights when you’re not working,” Booms said. “We represent the City of Harbor Beach, that’s why we passed that policy. The decision was based on our opinion and the opinion of the general public of the City of Harbor Beach who elected us.”
Armitage said she polled 42 people in the city, and 36 said they agreed with her.
“I didn’t seek out my friends. I didn’t withhold anybody from joining. All have been welcome the entire time. It was free and open. I just said state your opinion.”
Booms said council members have also conducted informal polls, and they found the opposite opinion is more popular.
“We all know, when you do that type of poll, some people don’t even want to comment because they don’t want to get into an argument. It’s a very controversial topic, it can be,” Booms said.
The committee did not vote to recommend a change in the policy, but Booms said he was willing to continue the debate and hear more evidence from Armitage at the next meeting, planned for 6 p.m. Oct. 24.