Area schools react to law allowing guns in buildings

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Although many people might be unaware of it, Michigan residents are allowed by law to carry an openly displayed pistol inside school buildings as long as they have a valid concealed pistol license (CPL).

While the law allowing this isn’t new, the issue was thrust into the spotlight in March after a person carried an openly displayed firearm inside an Ann Arbor school.

Since then, school leaders in Berrien County have been meeting to discuss what they should do in case this situation occurs in southwest Michigan.

Superintendents at Brandywine, Buchanan and Niles schools are among those involved in the discussions, which have included input from the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Department.

Although policies vary slightly by school district, school leaders said the goal is to keep students and staff safe while at the same time not violating a person’s rights.

The superintendents at all three schools agree the law needs to be changed.

“Hopefully the legislature will come up with something and address this so that no guns are allowed in school unless they are carried by law enforcement,” said Brandywine Supt. John Jarpe. “Until that happens we need to be aware and prepared.”

Under Brandywine’s protocol, staff are instructed to call police and place the school under a perimeter lockdown if a person is seen openly carrying a weapon. The person with the gun would be asked to come into the school office and remain there until police arrive and verify the person has a valid CPL. At that point, Jarpe said the school would defer to law enforcement on how to proceed.

Buchanan Supt. Andrea van der Laan said their protocol is similar, except that a person seen with a gun outside school would not be allowed inside until police arrive and verify the person is licensed.

“If we see it (a gun) your designated waiting area will be outside the building,” she said.

Niles Supt. Mike Lindley said they have a similar protocol, but, like Buchanan, would not allow a person seen with a gun outside school inside until police arrived.

Berrien County Prosecutor Mike Sepic said state law prevents guns in schools except for law enforcement officials and CPL holders. He said CPL holders are prohibited from concealing the weapon while in school, meaning it must be visible.

Sepic said to his knowledge no one has challenged this law in Berrien County. He commended area schools for being prepared.

“Getting ahead of this and planning is admirable for them to do,” he said.