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St. Clair County - Two years after new law, still no Wild West

2,581 gun permits, zero trouble
Two years after new law, still no 'Wild West'

Times Herald

Murder rates, shootings and crimes expected by some to rise once Michigan liberalized its concealed weapons law two years ago haven't happened.

The rush to get a concealed gun permit also has faded locally, officials said.

Since the state began to allow more people to carry concealed firearms, only two St. Clair County residents have had their permits revoked for violations, officials said. The law also limits where the weapons can be carried.

The state won't release its 2002-03 figures on concealed weapon permits until later this month, but by June 2002 more than 51,000 had been issued.

Locally, 2,581 permits have been issued since the law took effect, St. Clair County Clerk Marilyn Dunn said. Between July and December 2001, about 161 permits were issued per month. That dropped to about 107 permits per month in 2002, and through August 2003, the rate is down to about 46 per month. Since July 1, 2003, the five-year permits cost $105.

Those with an opinion on the gun law changes remain divided.

Those who supported the gun law change said it's been for the better because more people are educated about gun laws and more are exercising their right to bear arms.

"It's worked out well," Jon Camm, 29, of Port Huron said. "The working man isn't hassled in getting a permit."

Opponents feared guns worn by too many people would mean an increase in crime and violence.

"I still think the law is too loose," Carmella Henze, a retired saleswoman from St. Clair, said. "Not everyone needs a gun."

Permit rush slows

When the new gun law went into effect, the St. Clair County Sheriff Department dealt with a flood of people seeking a concealed weapons permit.

Shooting classes -- a requirement for the permit -- had waiting lists.

Gunsmith Dan Easterling, a firearms instructor from St. Clair, said the fervor for permits has died down.

Easterling also sits on the St. Clair County gun board, the group that decides who gets permits in the county and who gets them taken away. Also on the board are Michigan State Police Lt. Rob Yorke, St. Clair County Sheriff Department Lt. Jim DeLacy and St. Clair County Chief Deputy Clerk Val Martinek.

Fears about crimes being committed by gun-toting residents with new concealed weapons permits has not been realized, Easterling said.

"No one's been shooting anybody, and no one's been shot by anyone with a permit. People are much better trained," he said.

Police still worry

Port Huron police Maj. James Carmody said officers' concerns about traffic stops after the gun law changed have not subsided.

He said officers have to be very cautious when they learn through a license plate check that the driver may be carrying a weapon.

"They may be law-abiding citizens, but good people at times are put in bad situations," he said.

Since July 1 of this year, anyone with a CCL permit that is stopped by a police officer immediately must tell the officer they are carrying a firearm.

If a permit carrier has been drinking, Carmody said they may be tempted to lie about having a permit or carrying a gun. He said a person who has been drinking also may be quicker to become angry and become violent.

That's a dangerous set of circumstance for an officer trying to conduct a routine traffic stop, he said.

Both sides debate

Camm, who works as the sporting goods manager at the Hock Shop and Sporting Center in Port Huron, has seen fewer guns being sold.

"Last year, we had a lot," Camm said.

"It's been tapering off. Most everyone who wanted one has one."

He hasn't heard of problems with people using their weapons to commit crimes.

"No one comes in to buy a gun to commit a crime," he said. "Even if they come in with a CCL permit, we have to do the background check and call the FBI. As a whole I'd say it's a good system."

Camm would like to see the rules loosened even more.

"Hopefully, like other states, it will open up more," he said. "It's really restrictive where you can go with that."

Opponents still think the law was loosened too much.

"There should be a reason why you need a gun," Heanze said.

"I don't believe just anyone should have one. I believe in gun control."

St. Clair County Prosecutor Peter George was one of 10 prosecutors statewide to resign from the gun board in protest of the law in July 2001. He still says that was the right decision.

"I'm not second guessing that," he said. "There was no discretion left."

George hasn't seen any problems since the law changed.

"Not really," he said. "No incidents have come to my attention that are directly attributable to that law."

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