Six people were chosen at random and asked whether schools should be gun-free zones. Here are the answers in their own words:
Man on the street interviews and photos by Chris Faulknor/Boyne City Gazette
BY BENJAMIN J. GOHS, NEWS EDITOR
A routine resolution to revise and adopt various verbiage—including the Boyne City school system’s policies on grants, purchasing, conflicts of interest, food services and weapons—took an unexpected turn recently when a school board member made a unique request.
What began as a discussion concerning the Boyne City Public Schools weapons-free school zone rules turned into a discussion over guns, mass shootings and public safety.
“It (policy) talks about the weapons-free school zone extends a thousand feet from the boundary of any school property,” said Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education Treasurer Ross McLane. “Am I understanding correct that, under the first paragraph, school property is defined as, but not limited to, property leased, owned, or contracted? Am I understanding that correct?”
Outgoing Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Peter Moss said he believed that was the case.
“So, is this like a jaywalking thing, then, or is this real? Cuz, we’ve got a lot of property that is perimetered by a lot of houses,” said McLane. “How do we make sure that none of them have guns?
Moss said the policy was, “one of these things that’s hard to police.”
He added, “It’s no different than someone who might be walking along or riding along our bike trail. It’s our property. They may have a concealed pistol license.”
McLane said he has always been opposed to practices that don’t match policies.
“[H]ere’s a policy that’s repeated about the thousand feet over and over again and I’m just looking at, given where we live, and the great form of recreation that goes on up here—hunting—that these properties are surrounded by houses that, in all likelihood, if they don’t have their own hunting gun, they probably got grampa’s hunting gun,” he said.
Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education President Ken Schrader said the school system’s policy can’t affect property a thousand feet away from the school.
“Even more so, with this new knowledge, I cannot believe we are not making our campuses completely weapon-free—no exceptions—with the exception of an officer actively responding to a shooter in the school,” said Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education Trustee Zareena Koch. “Given the fact that we really can’t control anything around the perimeter of our property, I can’t believe you would not make it a weapon-free zone—truly weapon-free zone.”
She added, “I am saying our campuses, for the protection of our faculty, our staff and our students, need to be weapon-free.”
Koch said she wanted to change the school’s policy—which currently allows active duty and retired law enforcement and judges, corrections officers and private investigators to carry concealed weapons on school property—so that no one but a police officer responding to a crime could legally carry a weapon on school property.
“There should be no weapons on campus. It’s about education. It’s not about a weapon,” said Koch. “Hospitals are weapon-free, courtrooms are weapon-free, colleges are weapon-free—with the exception of Utah, and that’s a whole other bag of crazy.”
She added, “Why in God’s name would we have policy with all kinds of holes?”
Koch and Schrader argued over the value of allowing people to carry guns on school property.
“The people that this is allowing are trained … and they know what to do,” said Schrader.
Schrader said he wanted Koch to imagine that a shooter had five minutes of uninterrupted time to fire shots at people at a crowded school event, and to consider just how many people the shooter could injure in that time.
“That is the minimum that it’s going to take to get an officer to find that person—active officers on duty, on patrol—even if he’s there,” Schrader said.
Koch said there were people with concealed weapons at the theater mass shooting in Colorado and nobody stopped it.
Schrader said only active or retired officers of the law can carry concealed weapons on school property.
Koch said there is an exemption that allows parents to bring weapons on school property.
Schrader said that only applies to parents who have a gun in their car and are simply picking up or dropping off their student.
“I don’t see why we somehow have the great knowledge that crazy doesn’t live here. Crazy lives everywhere,” Koch said. “Why should we make a policy that it’s OK to have guns on campus?”
Koch opined that citizens with guns might only cause more confusion and hysteria when the police arrive.
Schrader responded, “That crazy, I want to be able to help do something about that crazy, not have to run and duck. I want to help get rid of that crazy if I can.”
There is one exception to the rule and that is that people with concealed weapons permits can carry firearms in the open on school property.
Koch pointed to two school districts—in Clio and Ann Arbor—that were in legal fights regarding whether civilians should be allowed to carry guns in plain sight on school property.
Schrader said, even if the board wanted to, it is in no position financially to fight the law.
“I think it’s a statement of the safety of students,” Koch said. “You don’t do things because you’re afraid you’re going to get sued. You do things because it’s the right thing to do.”
Schrader said, right now, Boyne City Public Schools is complying with Michigan law until the issue of whether citizens are allowed to carry concealed weapons onto school property is settled by the courts.
The board voted 5-1 to approve its policy changes but made no changes to law enforcement’s ability to carry guns on school property. Koch was the lone “no” vote.
Regarding the discussion of whether police should be able to carry their weapons on school grounds, Gaither said he would never send his on-duty officers out into the field—regardless of the reason—without their service weapons.
In the days following the school board meeting, the Boyne City Gazette spoke with Boyne City Police Chief Jeff Gaither to get his opinion on the matter from a law enforcement standpoint.
“We’ve got a school policy that, I believe, works now,” Gaither said. “If someone shows up at school intending to be legal but has a firearm, there is a process for doing it legally right now.”
Gaither said no one locally has opted to open carry a firearm on school property.
“I think some people who show up at other schools have the rationale, ‘I’m going to be either a deterrent of someone attacking the school or I will be able to defend people,’” Gaither said.
While it is legal for someone with a concealed weapons permit to carry their firearm in the open on certain public properties, Gaither said there is a process that must be followed at the local schools.
“You have to have your credentials checked and follow the policy once you get there,” he said.
Gaither said he thinks school officials all over the nation are reluctant to see people walking around with guns on school property.
“Would I encourage it? No,” Gaither said. “I think schools are gun-free zones for a reason.”
Gaither said part of this problem is that students have been taught to beware of weapons in school.
“We’re going to get a call from the school that says, ‘There’s a person here, they have a firearm, they say they’re legal, we need you to come check their credentials,’” said Gaither. “The problem is that, as they’re walking up to the school, we may have three students who are looking out the window going, ‘Oh my God. There’s a guy with a gun.’ And they call 9-1-1 from their cellphone saying there’s a guy with a gun out front.”
Gaither said he’s heard arguments both for and against regular citizens carrying guns in public.
“I think there are circumstances in any particular situation where there may be an active shooter and someone legally carrying a gun can assist and do assist and they sort of become a hero. So, it’s hard to say all the time, ‘this is my opinion,’” he said, adding that, if a good guy with a gun accidentally shoots an innocent person during such a situation, public sentiment could quickly go in the opposite direction.
Gaither did say that, simply being a good shot does not prepare a person for the high-stress, unpredictable situations which can arise when an armed individual intends to do others harm.
“I don’t really have a strong opinion either way,” said Gaither. “If people are allowed to carry guns in those (public) places, we’ll have to see if it changes any circumstances around the country.”
Gaither said he would like to see statistics on the effects that an armed citizenry may have on crime in the future.
“Will giving everyone a gun stop these terrible incidents? I’m skeptical that can happen,” he said. “I think people that carry guns believe in themselves but they may not have proper training or enough training to respond.”
Gaither added, “It’s not just firearms training. If you don’t live a mentality of living on-guard and being ready to react to situations or knowing ahead of time what the realities are for getting out of a situation … it’s really complicated. I think time will tell to see how this develops.”