On the day before the Newtown massacre, the Michigan legislature approved a bill that would have eliminated "gun-free zones," effectively allowing concealed pistol license holders to bring their guns onto school grounds across the state. The move, unsurprisingly, led to immediate outrage around the newfound gun control debate this country is beginning to have, and the bill's sponsor told The Detroit News Tuesday afternoon that Governor Rick Snyder will be vetoing that bill. "He's not going to sign it," said State Senator Mike Green. An hour later, Snyder followed through with the veto. The ghost of the day before Sandy Hook, it now appears, may never come to pass. Whether it's a sign of how Republican legislators will react to Friday's school shooting, however, remains to be seen.
The Detroit Free Press has obtained the veto letter Snyder sent to the legislature:
“I believe that it is important that these public institutions have clear legal authority to ban weapons from their premises,” he said in his letter. “Each is entrusted with the care of a vulnerable population and should have the authority to determine whether its mission would be enhanced by the addition of concealed weapons.”
We're not going to pretend we know what's going on in Snyder's head beyond that — earlier this month, he signed the state legislature's right-to-work bill into law a day early. But whether decisions like that remain up to the schools or not, the conversation concerning guns in schools has changed dramatically in the last five days. And the response to the Michigan bill, though it would not have focused on specifically on school zones, was particularly loud. Beyond responses from local groups, seemingly every cable-news show over the weekend debated the sad timing of the bill, and pundits left and right jumped all over the coincidence. From The New York Times's Joe Nocera:
One absurd argument some gun extremists are already making is that, instead of tightening gun laws, we should go in the other direction, and start packing heat. That way, you see, we can mow down the bad guy before he gets us. In Michigan, a bill to allow concealed weapons to be brought into public schools, day-care centers and churches has been approved by the Legislature and is awaiting the signature of that state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder.
Snyder was in a tough position, and not just because a new Public Policy Polling survey out today found him, after the right-to-work bill passed, now "one of the most unpopular Governors in the country." He is one of the first local officials — besides, you know, the president and Dianne Feinstein — to have to make a legislative call on guns after Newtown, and that path is even trickier for Republicans: allow the law to slide and he would have been seen by gun control advocates as part of the problem; deny it and he faces critics from pro-gun rights side. The gun debate is now such a tenuous topic that all 31 pro gun-rights Senators denied requests to appear on Meet the Press this weekend. And "in recent days, the Republican governor had been heavily lobbied by school groups, religious leaders, former police officers and doctors to prevent the bill from becoming law," reports The Detroit News's Chad Livengood. Officially, Snyder had been said to be vetoing the law because of the way legislature affects schools:
It sought to eliminate gun-free zones for concealed pistol license holders by requiring more training and prohibiting them from open-carrying weapons inside schools, stadiums, churches and hospitals.
The legislation contains a loophole that allows private property owners to ban concealed weapons, but Snyder had raised concerns about a lack of a similar opt-out provision for schools and other publicly owned property.
"He wanted us to put the same language in that we had for (private property)," Green said.
So, yes, if Governor Snyder didn't veto that bill, he would have been the first governor to allow concealed guns on school grounds in the wake of Newtown, and would have had to presumably deal with everything such a distinction would bring. For now, it's neither a tell to gun-rights advocates nor a wave of relief for the clamoring gun-control side. Stay tuned to The Atlantic Wire later today for more on how the GOP might react to new legislation in Washington.