Gun debate puts people on both sides of the fence

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- It's a polarizing issue that puts people on both sides of the fence, and for decades people have been allowed to 'open carry' their guns. In fact, more and more people are exercising their rights, and even the number of people carrying a gun that’s concealed is up now to about half a million or 5% of the population in Michigan. Keep in mind, Michigan’s population is a little above 10 million people.

The laws that come along with the ‘open’ and ‘concealed’ carry aren’t always clear cut. Sometimes they are difficult to interpret, and enforce. Today the Black Law Student Chapter of Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School is trying to change misconceptions. The panel consisted of Michigan State Trooper, Martin Miller, owner of J&R guns in Muskegon, Chris Sanford II, and attorney, Steve Dulan.

They invited law enforcement, an attorney, and a gun shop owner to try to clarify questions people have.   Fox 17's Cassandra Arsenault was there to pick their brains. The panel covered everything from more women purchasing guns, to minorities open carrying, to mass murder zones.

It was just a few days ago that a Federal Court opinion ruled against a man trying to sue the city of Grand Rapids, and two officers for an incident involving an open carry dispute. This is just one of several cases that show these kinds of issues, and it’s raising questions and emotions.

Johann Deffert was involved in an incident that happened more than a year ago. The incident stemmed from a call for help to Grand Rapids police from a concerned citizen saying they'd seen a man with a gun, walking down the street.

Deffert filed suit after his 13-minute detainment with police saying his rights were violated and he was assaulted without breaking the law. A judge issued a 27-page opinion on the matter finding the officers involved acted appropriately.  The attorney for Deffert in that case, Steve Dulan, was also the speaker at Thursday night's panel.

“We are reviewing the opinion and considering the options, and that`s all I’m going to say about that case,” said Dulan.

Dulan did have an important message for everyday citizens carrying guns, especially as exercising a right to carry is becoming more and more popular.

“Here is the big issue. Honestly, it’s that we have so many laws that are so complicated and byzantine that they turn innocent people into criminals. These are people who are not out to hurt anybody. In many cases they are trying to study up on it, and they are trying to follow the law, but the law doesn`t make any sense. So they end up finding themselves in legal trouble,” said Dulan.

Dulan remembers a time early in his career where he thought he had a handle on the law when a client only had half of his gun showing on the side of his pants.

“Early in my career, I thought just because the police officer had seen my clients gun that it wasn`t considered a big deal, turns out I had to learn the definition of concealed under Michigan law,” said Dulan.

Michigan State Trooper Martin Miller made it clear that officers have the right at reasonable discretion to stop and ask questions to those open-carrying.

“Just because I get a call or I see somebody walking down the street with a properly holstered weapon is not something to get overly upset about. I typically use an approach as a casual and common conversation as if I was another person in society. I’d say 'I see your carrying. Can I ask you a couple questions?’ Just the average citizen walking around? I got to let them go,” said Miller.

The panel agreed that sometimes an aggressive approach, opposite of Trooper Miller's is exercised, and that line of discretion is blurred.

“The line is drawn at reasonableness, and that varies on a case by case basis. There is really no bright line there. In many cases its actually up to a court to decided what is reasonable under those circumstances,” said Dulan.

According to data from the Crime Prevention Resource Center citizens owning guns is an extremely safe activity. They deem it safer than other things people do on a daily basis like driving cars.  For more information on the laws for correctly open-carrying and concealed carrying click here.

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