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Campus Gun Control Advocates Heartened By Michigan Governor's Veto Of Guns In Schools

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GUNS ON CAMPUS
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Citing last Friday's school shooting and the need for more comprehensive review of issues related to gun violence, on Tuesday Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed legislation that would have allowed concealed weapons in college campuses and other places where they are currently off limits.

The governor's veto bolstered gun control advocates' hopes that the recent push among a handful of states to allow people to carry guns on college campuses may be hitting a roadblock in the wake of a fatal shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

In a statement, the governor explained that the veto is primarily based on the bill's failure to allow public places like the state's universities, public day care centers, and hospitals to ban concealed weapons on the premises. The press release also addressed the shooting last week, and called for a review of school emergency policies and mental health services.

"While we must vigilantly protect the rights of law-abiding firearm owners, we also must ensure the right of designated public entities to exercise their best discretion in matters of safety and security," the Republican governor said in a statement announcing the veto. "These public venues need clear legal authority to ban firearms on their premises if they see fit to do so."

Michigan's law would have allowed concealed-pistol license holders who completed additional training to carry a concealed pistol in places where it is currently not allowed. Five states -- Oregon, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Utah and Colorado -- currently allow carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus. Similar legislation is currently being considered in Ohio and advocates on both sides expect upcoming legislative fights in other states in 2013.

In Michigan, proponents of the law say they expect to continue fighting for the right to carry concealed weapons throughout the state. "We honestly think it's a travesty for Michigan gun owners and for the entire population of the state," said Reid Smith the state director of Students For Concealed Carry - Michigan.

Students for Concealed Carry was formed in 2007 after a shooter at Virginia Tech University shot and killed 32 people. "Our logic is that criminals are not going to obey pistol free zones, so law abiding citizens with at least 18 hours of training should be allowed to protect themselves."

"This is an issue that's not going away in Michigan anytime soon," said Smith, who added that he didn't believe the shooting in Connecticut was a factor in the governor's decision to veto the bill.

But gun control advocates say they see Snyder's veto as evidence that the tone of the fight may be changing as the country reels from the death of 20 children in Newtown. "It's unfortunate that it takes a horrific tragedy to spur people onto action," said Andy Pelosi, the director of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campuses. "But I think more people are energized about this issue than I've think i've ever seen."

In 16 years working on gun issues, Pelosi said that he has never seen this level of public interest after a mass shooting, with hundreds of thousands of signatures amounting on various online petitions supporting gun control measures. Still, he added, in all his years seeking these measures, "We haven't been seeing progress really. We've just been beating back legislation," he said. "We have some momentum right now, but I'm not going to overestimate that momentum. The key is to keep the conversation going after the news cycle moves on."

John Woods, the lead organizer for Students For Gun Free Schools in Texas, said he thought the governor's veto in Michigan was promising but a far cry from real reform. "It's not necessarily a sign that we've changed for the better, it's just a sign that we haven't changed for the worse," he said.

Woods, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shootings who has spent recent years fighting back legislation in Texas that would allow concealed weapons on campuses, disagreed with the idea that laws like these would have made him and his classmates safer on that day in 2007. "I worry that it could have gone worse," he said. "But I think people may be finally realizing that the answer to guns is not more guns."

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