Saturday, October 4, 2008

Engler Did At Least One Good Thing For Detroiters!

On January 1, 2002, Michigan Governor John Engler signed into law Public Act 381 that made Michigan a "shall issue" state with respect to the issuance of Concealed Pistol Licenses (CPL). This statute revamped prior law by removing the often burdenous requirement that a CPL applicant had to demonstrate a "need" before being granted a CPL. Also, this law removed a lot of discretionary authority from local gun boards.

Once this law went into effect, any applicant who met the state's newly revised statutory requirements, would be granted a CPL. This new process was radically different from the one that existed under prior law. Previously, CPL licensing requests were routinely not granted to Wayne County residents - especially Detroiters - unless the applicants were well connected politically. This policy, under the Wayne County Gun Board, stood alone in stark contrast to other metropolitan Detroit area counties (e.g. Oakland and Macomb) that were handing out CPLs to practically anyone that applied.

Under prior law, a CPL applicant had to be at least 18 years of age. In addition, he had to "indicate a good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property or have 'other proper reasons' and must be a 'suitable person to be licensed.' Further still, the applicant could not have had a felony conviction in the past 8 years or a pending felony charge. If the aforementioned conditions were met, the applicant would be eligible receive a permit, however, the county gun board still retained the last word as to whether he would be issued a CPL.

Predictably, the possible enactment of Public Act 381 generated a whirlwind of protests. The very idea that state-wide standards would supplant the whims and fancies of local gun board fiefdoms was very unsettling. Most supporters of the then status quo justified their positions on the basis that different communities had varying levels of community standards. In other words, Wayne County citizens just could not be trusted to behave responsibly with CPLs.

The most noteworthy example of dissatisfaction with the then proposed legislation was perhaps provided by US Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) who on December 13, 2000 issued a press release urging Governor Engler to veto PA 381 on the grounds that "those best in a position to know" (i.e. the law enforcement community) believed that the proposed law would lead to significant threats to public safety."

Furthermore, at no surprise to Wayne County residents, close suburban politicos also negatively chimed in to the public discourse with unflattering commentary. Oakland County Chief Executive Officer, L. Brooks Patterson, was quoted as saying, "I'm going to take down my Oakland County sign and say Welcome to Dodge City."

Also, Oakland County Prosecutor Dave Gorcyca, best known lately - perhaps - for providing job finding assistance for a convicted bank robber and his unrelenting prosecution of a teacher despite a lack of compelling evidence, resigned from his county gun board in protest.

In fact, a newspaper survey that was conducted at that time found that 15 Michigan county prosecutors - in total - resigned from their local gun boards in protest of the new law. In Wayne County, Prosecutor Mike Duggan, who once quipped, "When a person gets up and pulls on his pants and straps on his gun without a thought, that person is a potential murderer before the end of the day," also resigned. Fortunately, for the benefit of Wayne County residents, Duggan is no longer in law enforcement; he found a well paying job with the DMC hospital system.

A quick comparison of the old statute and the current law under PA 381 shows that the requirements to get a CPL were significantly tightened. For example, under the old statute an applicant had to be only 18 years old. Currently, an applicant has to be at least 21 years of age.

Also, under the old system an applicant could not have had committed a felony within the last eight years preceding his application for a CPL. In contrast, the current statute does not allow anyone with a felony conviction committed at any time to get a CPL.

The biggest change in the law was undeniably the elimination of a “demonstration of need” for the CPL. Effectively, it removed almost all of the discretionary power of the gun boards. Essentially, the law as it exists now is uniform throughout the state. Thus, any individual, regardless of his county of residence, shall be issued a CPL if he meets the statutory requirements.

Many people in my community don't have a favorable opinion about the legacy of former Michigan Governor John Engler. I, for one, am very happy about his legacy on "this" issue.

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