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Libraries vs. guns

City of Ferndale waged war against weapons in public buildings before - and lost

By CAROL HOPKINS

The words are still there in red on the Ferndale Public Library's front door.

"Absolutely no weapons including those permitted by concealed weapons law may be brought into this facility."

The statement remains, even though the courts have said the rule is not enforceable for properly registered concealed weapons.

In 2001, Ferndale's City Council took a bold stand and voted to ban guns from its city buildings.

The move - called groundbreaking by some - spurred other cities to take similar stands. Soon Detroit, East Lansing, Saline and others had passed their own bans.

A gun rights group, Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, took Ferndale to court.

Talk of Ferndale's gun fight came up recently when, in June, the Waterford Township Board of Trustees approved new library rules that included prohibiting guns inside the library.

Gun rights advocates protested, saying the township could not ban guns, quoting from the rulings made during the Ferndale effort.

Ferndale bans guns

Sometime in 2001, Ferndale City Council member Jonathan Warshay attended the funeral of a teenage nephew who was murdered by someone using a handgun in Detroit.

"He proposed an ordinance to prohibit firearms in public buildings," said Tom Barwin, Ferndale city manager.

The ruling included all city buildings but didn't involve parks.

"We wanted to keep weapons out of municipal buildings," said Warshay. "We were concerned for the safety of the public and employees. No one needs a weapon to transact business with the city. Our ordinance covered weapons of various types, not just guns. The ordinance was narrowly tailored for an important public purpose."

The ban came around the time the state's more lenient concealed weapons permit statute took effect. That law does not allow concealed weapons in sports stadiums, schools, bars, day care centers and other places, but does not exempt municipal buildings.

"As soon as the Legislature expanded the concealed weapons laws, the state courts enacted rules to ban weapons from courthouses," said Warshay

The courts are able to keep weapons out because the state constitution gives courts the authority to make their own rules, Warshay said.

Immediately, the Ferndale ban was challenged by representatives of the National Rifle Association, Barwin said, and the city found itself in court defending the ordinance.

"We argued cities should have the right to police and manage their own buildings. We said it was important to make the case to keep handguns out of libraries."

The city's insurance carrier handled most of the legal fees, Barwin said.

The case began winding its way through the courts.

The courts rule

In 2002, an Oakland County Circuit Court judge upheld Ferndale's ordinance, and the gun rights group appealed.

In May 2003, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that communities can't add restrictions to state rules on where gun owners can carry weapons.

In September, 2003, when the Ferndale backers carried the case to the Michigan Supreme Court, the court refused to hear an appeal of the decision, assuring the victory to gun rights groups.

Reflections on the ban

Robert Porter, Ferndale's current mayor and a City Council member during the time of the ban, never backed the ordinance.

"It would have been a feel-good measure," he said. "The only way to enforce it would have been to put a security guard and metal detector at every door.

"Obviously, in today's economy, there is no way we'd be able to do that."

The idea is good, he said, "but it's just not enforceable."

Ferndale Library Director Mary Trenner remembers only one time, years ago, when someone brought a gun into the library.

"He was an undercover plainclothes officer with a gun on his belt," she says. "We said, 'Sir, we don't allow guns in here,' and he pointed at his badge and didn't remove the gun.

"He conducted his business and left."

She explained that if a patron brought a weapon in and staff were disturbed, "they would come to me and then we'd contact the police," she said.

Mike Lennon, now a council member, was a Ferndale police officer during the ban.

"It didn't go over well with the law enforcement community," he said. "Even if you were off-duty paying a water bill, you couldn't carry your gun into City Hall."

He doesn't like the idea that the signs are still up on buildings.

"It needs to be removed, because (carrying) is no longer a violation. It's like keeping up a stop sign when you've made a dead-end street."

He advises Waterford Township to drop any idea of banning guns: "They'd just be throwing money away to fight that."

Waterford Township Supervisor Carl Solden agrees.

"I see no reason why we should not follow the state law on (concealed weapons) permits," Solden said. "There is no sense creating a situation where we could face a lawsuit and spend money on defending ourselves in a losing battle, like Ferndale already did.

"The stage has apparently been set, why fight it?"

Ferndale City Manager Barwin feels otherwise, and wants the township to try again.

"My feeling is the public is very supportive (of the gun ban).

"Hopefully, the lawyers will look at the decision and see if there can be any modification to our ordinance."

Waterford meeting

The Waterford Township Board of Trustees will discuss the issue of carrying guns into its library during a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 22.

http://www.theoaklandpress.com/stories/080805/loc_200508080006.shtml

*FW Note:

Most state's concealed weapons laws have provisos which regulate possession of concealed firearms in government and municipal facilities and on private property.

Why the fuss?

:?
 
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