Policies Prohibiting Weapons on School Property Are Upheld by Michigan Supreme Court
In a decision eagerly anticipated by the school community throughout the state, on July 27, 2018, the Michigan Supreme Court held that school policies that prohibit weapons, including firearms, on school property are valid and enforceable.
The two cases considered by the Supreme Court arose from the Ann Arbor and Clio school districts. A Michigan statute, MCL §123.1102, states that "a local unit of government" may not regulate firearms, but specifically defines "local unit of government" as "a city, village, township or county." Since schools are none of those “units of government,” the two school districts (like many others in the state) enacted policies prohibiting weapons on school property. The Ann Arbor and Clio policies were challenged by Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. and Michigan Open Carry, Inc., respectively. The Washtenaw County Circuit Court agreed with Ann Arbor Schools that weapons could be banned. The Genesee County Circuit Court disagreed, invalidating Clio’s policy on the basis of an earlier appellate decision involving a district library. The Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously held that nothing in state law prevented a school district from enacting a policy prohibiting weapons; that the School Code – specifically, MCL §380.11a, authorizing boards to take actions necessary to "provid[e] for the safety and welfare of pupils while at school or a school-sponsored activity” – permitted such a policy; and that the Ann Arbor and Clio policies were thus valid.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision, thus upholding both the Ann Arbor and Clio policies. While generally reported as split 4-3 on the case, the Court was actually much more supportive of a ban. Four justices, led by Justice McCormack, held that no statute – and certainly not MCL §123.1102, forbidding such a ban by "a city, village, township or county” – precluded such a ban, and refused the argument that the Legislature had implicitly preempted the field of gun regulation. Two other justices agreed with both of these holdings but believed the Court should have considered an issue not raised or briefed by any of the parties. Only one justice dissented from the principal holding of the case upholding weapons prohibitions.
This decision is not necessarily the last word on this subject. The unbriefed issue that two justices wanted to consider will undoubtedly be raised in the future by a person or entity demanding the right to carry a weapon on school property. Though there is no indication how that issue might be resolved, or that any of the justices in the majority would decide that issue differently, that could change. And all seven of the justices agreed that the Legislature could, if it wished, add schools to the list of entities that cannot regulate firearms. An attempt by gun advocates to convince the Legislature to do just that could happen in the upcoming post-election “lame duck” session, or at some future time.
For now, however, state law clearly permits districts to prohibit firearms on school property. Districts that wish to prohibit weapons but have hesitated because of the pending litigation are now free to proceed. If such policies are enacted, notification of local law enforcement is advisable, so that they need not be convinced should a confrontation arise.
If you have questions about this or other school safety-related issues, please contact Mark McInerney at (313) 965-8383 or another member of Clark Hill’s Education Law group.