It's never been difficult to own firearms in Michigan, but you might think otherwise watching the majority of state lawmakers. They're on a mission, and while finding a fix for our roads may be a bridge too far, the Legislature's proven itself adroit at pursuing the gun lobby's agenda.
Indeed, the Legislature went into its summer recess having passed eight bills with the blessing, if not directive, of the National Rifle Association, two of them already signed into law.
The first repealed Michigan's ban on short-barreled rifles and shotguns, bringing Michigan into line with the majority of states that allow residents to own short-barreled weapons so long as they meet federal requirements, which include a background check and a $200 tax.
More recently, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation to keep the names of gun owners out of the public record - a formality, really, since the state Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the disclosure of gun registry records are "a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy."
Think what you will about either of these bills, it seems odd that in the midst of a national epidemic of firearm violence and gun-related deaths that the lawmakers would be spending any time at all on loosening firearm restrictions.
We can't think of a single public interest served by blocking access to records of who owns guns and who has the licenses and permits to carry them, but at least seven other states passed similar legislation after a New York newspaper published the names and addresses of handgun owners in two suburban counties north of New York City. Our Legislature is far from alone in doing the NRA's bidding.
There is one way, however, that Michigan does stand out: It's the only state in the union that gives county-level gun boards discretion in reviewing applications for concealed weapons permits.
That distinction is under threat. The Senate on June 10 passed a bill that would do away with the boards, shifting the responsibility from local law enforcement to county clerks and state police.
The bill would reduce fees associated with conceal-carry permit applications from $105 to $90 per application, but it would shift costs to the state police. The Senate Fiscal Agency, a nonpartisan budget-scoring arm of the legislature, reported that state police would need to move 58 full-time officers from patrol to application review at an annual cost of $8.4 million, or $143,843 per employee.
Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, the bill's sponsor, finds the current Michigan process too burdensome.
"Michigan residents currently pay one of the highest CPL fees in the nation, yet they must deal with inconsistent requirements from county to county and experience some of the longest delays in receiving a license," Green told M-Live. "We are the only state in the nation that still uses gun boards to issue CPLs. It is obsolete and needs to change."
We're unconvinced. We've not seen evidence of application backlogs. Governing magazine, citing a Michigan State Police annual report, writes that "between July 2011 to June 2012, the state recorded 82,347 applications for concealed pistol licenses. Of those, about 96 percent were issued."
The Michigan State Police testified against the bill in a March committee hearing, citing concerns about moving officers away from patrols. The Michigan Sheriffs' Association also opposes the legislation.
We do, too. We hope the House rejects the bill and if it comes to it, the governor is ready with a veto.
Local gun boards are in a far better position to vet applications, and, ultimately, be accountable to communities in which they serve.
Getting a concealed weapons permit is easy enough in Michigan. We need not make it any easier.