Ten years later, opposition to concealed weapons fades as fears are unrealized

IONIA, Mich. (AP) -- Ten years after Michigan expanded the right of law-abiding adults to carry firearms, some of those who opposed the change say the dangers they feared didn't come to pass.

About 276,000 Michigan residents now have concealed weapons permits, according figures obtained from state police, the Detroit Free Press reported recently. That's up from about 52,000 people 10 years ago.

State police records show 2 percent of concealed weapons license holders have been sanctioned for misbehavior.

"I think you can look back and say, 'It was a big nothing,'" said Ronald Schafer, Ionia County prosecutor and president of Michigan's prosecutors' association, which led opposition to the law change in 2001.

Until July 2001, people seeking to carry concealed weapons had to show a local gun board why they needed them. Since then, adults without felony records have been entitled to concealed weapons permits.

Michigan Catholic Conference President Paul Long helped lead opposition to the law change.

Asked last week about its effect, he said: "In all honesty, I don't give it much thought. It just hasn't been much of an issue."

The Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police vigorously opposed the changes, and its leaders also say the group's concerns haven't materialized.

"There haven't been as many incidents as we feared," Executive Director Tom Hendrickson said. "It really hasn't been an issue ... because so many superseding issues came along. In the total scheme of things, it just faded away."

Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie said he still wants strengthened screening for mentally unstable applicants, but he also acknowledged that most of his concerns haven't materialized.

"We've done better than I thought," Mackie said. "We've had far fewer violations by (permit) holders than I feared we would."

A gun rights advocacy group said the past decade has vindicated its position.

"The debate is pretty much over, and we won," said Steve Dulan, a member of the board of the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said that the problems with gun violence don't tend to come from licensed gun carriers.

"My position was, and still is ... that the people we have a problem with aren't the people who are willing to follow the law and go through the hoops and training," Bouchard said.

Published: Thu, Aug 4, 2011