Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

December 18, 2012

Gov. Snyder to give gun bill 'extra consideration'

LANSING (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder pledged Monday to take a close look at legislation that could allow concealed weapons in schools and churches following the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school that evoked painful, personal memories of a fatal shooting at his college dormitory more than three decades ago.

Snyder told The Associated Press during an interview that his public safety concerns have been heightened and "deserve extra consideration" following a mass shooting that left 26 people — including 20 children — dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"We're looking at the whole situation due to Connecticut, not just the fact that there's a bill out there," the Republican governor said. "One of the things I've asked our team to look at is what's going with school policies, with mental-health-related issues, because in many respects it appears this was a mentally ill person. ... What that legislation says will be looked at through the lens of all that's happened."

Snyder said the Good Friday 1981 shooting at University of Michigan also plays into his decision-making regarding the legislation. He was a law school student and resident adviser when a student set fires by throwing Molotov cocktails onto the floor and fired a shotgun, killing another resident adviser and a student who was trying to help get people off the floor.

He said he dealt with the fire alarm while two other student advisers went up to the floor where the gunman was. If it wasn't for an ailing resident director, Snyder said, he would have responded and "that most likely would have been me" who was shot.

"I haven't publicly talked about this much," Snyder said. "It's one of those things you just live with. If you ask in context, this is something that has additional impact on me because of my personal history."

The reflection shaped by the incident that he said still replays in his mind sharply contrasts with the whirlwind decisions made last week by the governor, who in the final days of the legislative session led a Republican effort to make the historically union-strong state the nation's 24th to enact right-to-work legislation limiting labor's power. It was one of an estimated 282 bills passed in the so-called lame-duck session that was capped by marathon 18-hour session over 2 days.

The gun bill, also from the GOP-controlled Legislature, would allow someone with extra training to carry a concealed weapon in a gun-free zone. However, schools, churches and other entities could declare themselves off-limits to openly carried guns under trespass laws. It also would put county sheriffs in charge of concealed-weapons applications instead of local boards.

President Barack Obama on Sunday pledged to seek change in memory of those ruthlessly slain by the gunman packing a high-powered rifle in Friday's shooting.

Jessica Tramontana, a spokeswoman for the liberal group Progress Michigan, said she was sorry to hear about the governor's experience, which is becoming "all too much of a reality" for many Americans.

"I would strongly encourage the governor to take his experience with violence, turn this around and veto this legislation," she said. "Weapons don't always diffuse a situation. They exacerbate a situation."

Steve Dulan, an attorney and board member of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, hopes the governor signs the bill because guns in the hands of qualified and trained people have kept incidents like these from happening or at least reduced the number of lives lost.

He acknowledged the "horrifying timing coincidence" of the legislation but added this should not keep it from becoming law.

"Signs do not keep out murderers," Dulan said.

Funerals were held Monday in Newtown for two 6-year-old boys killed in the rampage. The attack was so horrifying that authorities could not say when or if the school would reopen.

Snyder said his "thoughts and prayers" were the families in Newtown. He said he remembers well seeing and experiencing the community impact of such an event.

"I stayed in the dorm, and you could see people breaking down all weekend, having emotional issues," he said. "The university did a great job — they had counselors everywhere. Still, it was just an awful experience."

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