Michigan State University’s Board of Trustees amended the campus gun policy so that even those licensed to openly or concealed carry firearms by the state will now be violating an ordnance enforceable by police and potentially criminally charged by the county prosecutor.
The old policy prohibited possession or use of firearms on MSU property, “except as permitted by state law regulating firearms.”
The revisions, which the board passed in a 5-2 vote Friday, remove that exception and add new, more specific carve-outs allowing only law enforcement to carry firearms on campus.
The change takes immediate effect, and in coming months, the university plans to add signage across campus alerting visitors to the restriction, according to an MSU spokesperson.
Board chair Rema Vassar and vice-chair Dan Kelly voted against the change. Trustee Dennis Denno was not present at the meeting.
The contested vote is a rarity for MSU's board. In its last two sessions, only 6 of 200 votes weren't unanimous.
Kelly, the board's only Republican, said the change was brought to the board by advocates, not law enforcement, and changing criminal law should not be the business of the board.
"This is actually putting people in jail," Kelly said. "There's no doubt that the amendment puts law-abiding people in jail."
Kelly said he fears the rule gives too much discretion to MSU police officers because he believes they will base enforcement on who they "subjectively decide is suspicious."
Vassar also voted against the revision, citing concerns with implicit bias in its enforcement.
After trustees began voicing concerns, trustee Kelly Tebay, who introduced the revisions, asked MSU Vice President for Police and Public Safety Marlon Lynch to answer questions about his department's prospective handling of the ordinance.
Lynch said his officers are already asked to make decisions about enforcement every day.
"That's already part of what they do," Lynch said. "These are tough decisions and our officers make them on a daily basis."
He also said that all of his officers "go through several (implicit bias) training opportunities."
Lynch added that the change was first discussed years ago under former Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, who told MSU she would not enforce the ordinance if passed.
But the new prosecutor, John Dewane, has said that he would enforce the amended ordinance like any other law.
This change comes seven months after a shooting on the university’s campus that left three students dead and five others critically injured.
At the board’s April meeting, members of the advocacy group Students Against Gun Violence addressed the trustees, asking that they amend the policy to remove the state-law exception.
“We ask the board again, now today, to close a loophole,” Students Against Gun Violence member Mason Vore said at the April meeting. “It should not take violence on our campus for you to come to the decision that this needs change and should have changed long ago. It’s unconscionable that we have to ask again.”
The description of Friday’s amendment notes that the board waited to introduce the change until a Michigan Court of Appeals case clarifying universities’ ability to regulate firearms was resolved in July.
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During discussion of the change, graduate student liaison to the board Hannah Jeffery asked Lynch whether the change to the ordinance would have prevented the deadly shooting.
Lynch said it would not have, because the shooter did not encounter police before the violence began. However, the shooter was not licensed to carry the weapon he used, meaning he was already violating campus ordinances and criminal law.
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