Clio father legally takes loaded gun into elementary school

MLive – by Gary Ridley

VIENNA TWP, MI – A father walked into Edgerton Elementary in Vienna Township on Wednesday to pick up his daughter with a loaded gun strapped at his waist.

It was perfectly legal – albeit unnerving for school officials who asked Kenneth Herman, 31, to wait outside.

Herman said he has open-carried his firearm previously at the school without incident and will continue to do so.  

Clio schools Superintendent James Tenbusch called it a “disruption” and said the recent high-profile instances of school violence should make people rethink carrying firearms into a school.

“Just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean you should,” Tenbusch said.

A sheriff’s deputy was called to the school – at least in part at Herman’s suggestion — just as school was letting out for the day Wednesday. The deputy spoke to Herman and no arrest was made.

“The father certainly had a right to be in the building,” Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell said Thursday.

Pickell said state law allows people with a concealed pistol permit – which Herman has — to openly carry a firearm in a school.

Devin Schindler, a law professor at Lansing-based Cooley College, said state law prohibits the open carry of firearms at a number of gun-free facilities, such as banks, churches and bars — “surprisingly enough, schools are not on that list,” Schindler said.

Michigan law does ban concealed weapons in schools and other designated areas such as sports arenas and hospitals, but Schindler said his interpretation of the law is that there is no limit on open carry – including that only those with a concealed weapon permit can open carry.

A third law establishes Michigan schools as weapon-free zone but that law includes the specific exemption to the ban for individuals with a concealed weapon permit.

Herman earlier in the week sent a note to Tenbusch protesting a “drug free, gun free” sign posted at the school.

“I realize with the most recent Newtown tragedy, you no doubt felt compelled to act in a ‘feel good’ show of security,” Herman wrote in the email provided by the school. “However, such signage violates Michigan law. Furthermore, challenges of this law have been struck down by state of Michigan courts.”

Herman sent the email to Tenbusch at 10:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 2, and asked to meet with the superintendent Wednesday to discuss the issue.

The superintendent responded to the email at 3:49 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3, saying that he would be unable to meet with Herman on Wednesday but he would be available Friday, Sept. 6, or the following Monday to discuss the issue, according to the provided emails.

Herman said he carries a pistol every day and that he did not intend to create conflict when he went to the school Wednesday. He said he went to the school simply to pick up his daughter, whom The Journal agreed not to identify.

“It does bring attention to it, but, however, that was not my intention,” said Herman, a graduate of Clio High School.

Tenbusch said Herman approached the school through its security doors and staff allowed him to enter. Tenbusch said school employees did not know Herman was carrying a firearm when they allowed him to enter, but they soon noticed his pistol while he stood in the school’s hallway.

School staff called the Vienna Township sheriff’s substation about 3:30 p.m., Pickell said. School lets out at 3:35 p.m.

The school district issued a recorded phone message to parents about the incident, Tenbusch said.

Herman said he has sent an email to the superintendent and principal and is requesting an apology.

Megan Olmstead, a parent of an Edgerton student, said she doesn’t like that the law allows guns at schools, but hopes those who do possess firearms use them properly.

“I hope that the person is being responsible,” Olmstead said. “I don’t know why anyone would need (a gun).”

Jennifer Williams, who is also the mother of an Edgerton student, said that she was surprised that guns are legal within the schools. She added that she thinks they should not be allowed, in light of recent school shootings in other states.

However, Williams added that she never felt her children were in any danger on Wednesday.

Tenbusch said that the district has adopted the philosophy of being a drug-free, weapon-free environment and that the district understands that state law and the U.S. Constitution allow firearms to be openly carried on school property.

However, he said the district has the right to ask individuals to leave the school if they disrupt the academic process.

“If we see a weapon, we go into lockdown,” Tenbusch said, noting that the district was not placed on lockdown Wednesday because the incident happened as students were being dismissed.

He said lockdowns, as well as concerns raised by students, parents and staff during Wednesday’s incident, cause a disruption in the school and justify the district’s demand that those with weapons leave.

Herman said state law and court precedent prove that schools are not allowed to prohibit the lawful carrying of firearms and that schools may be doing more harm than good by instituting mandatory lockdowns.

Robert Harris, media director for the advocacy organization Michigan Open Carry, said he would prefer to carry concealed guns inside places such as schools to prevent possibly alarming school staff members and students. Ultimately, he said more people carrying guns in schools would provide additional protection against attacks like Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech.

“If parents want to protect their child, carry wherever they can legally carry,” Harris said.

Michigan State Police produced a widely-cited document outlining Michigan’s gun laws. You can view it in the gallery above.

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