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Public sector/Quality of life

Snyder, senator at odds over guns in schools

Ron Mead doesn’t think teachers – or anyone else, other than police – should be allowed to carry guns in schools.

“To me, that’s just inviting trouble,” he said. “We want schools to be something comforting and inviting.”

PHYSICAL REMINDER: Ron Mead, shown in a 1998 photo directing traffic at Chelsea High, is now retired. He still suffers pain from injuries sustained in a 1993 shooting perpetrated by then-teacher Stephen Leith. (courtesy photo/

PHYSICAL REMINDER: Ron Mead, shown in a 1998 photo directing traffic at Chelsea High, is now retired. He still suffers pain from injuries sustained in a 1993 shooting perpetrated by then-teacher Stephen Leith. (courtesy photo/

Mead’s views on guns in school come with personal experience, due to an incident nine days before Christmas 1993. That’s the day a gunman killed Chelsea Schools Superintendent Joseph Piasecki, wounded a teacher and then turned the gun on Mead, the high school principal.

Unlike in other recent school shootings, the gunman in this case was not a student or an intruder. He was a teacher.

Given enough anger, jealousy, resentment or mental illness and easy access to a gun, anyone, including a teacher, is capable of killing.

“The more guns that are out there,” Mead said, “the more problems you’re going to have with guns.”

Legislator pushes weapons for educators

State Sen. Mike Green disagrees.

One way to prevent school shootings, he said, is to allow teachers and others to carry guns in schools. In December, the Legislature passed Green’s bill, which would have allowed those with state licenses to carry concealed weapons in schools and other public places previously banned. It was Dec. 13, the day before the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed the bill, because it did not allow schools, day-care centers, hospitals and other institutions to opt out and remain gun-free zones.

Green has introduced a similar bill with a slight change, allowing schools and other institutions to opt in, if the top administrator or governing board authorized the carrying of guns in the previously gun-free zones.

“We spoke to the governor’s staff person, and they said, ‘We’d like you to put this, this and this in it,’ and we ignored it,” Green said. “(Snyder) ended up moving the goal posts. We couldn’t keep giving him what he wanted.”

If the Legislature passes that bill, Snyder will veto it, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said.

MORE COVERAGE — Chelsea school shooter: Gun control won’t help

“We made it very clear why it was vetoed,” Calley said. “The concept of the bill is the same as last year. The answer from the administration will be the same this year as it was last year.”

Allowing guns in schools, whether by arming teachers or posting armed guards, is not the solution, said William Mayes, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators. In January, as a member of the American Association of School Administrators executive committee, he helped draft a statement opposing guns in schools and calling on Congress to pass commonsense gun safety legislation.

“I have a concealed weapons permit,” Mayes said. “I own guns. I own a pistol. I just don’t believe they belong in schools. I don’t want schools to become armed camps.”

Michigan’s schools are required to have emergency plans and to run two lockdown drills each year. (A recent investigation by, however, found that compliance with the requirement was spotty, at best.)

“This is our new normal,” he said. “We lived through Sandy Hook. We know every now and then we need to be prepared for what might happen. The bottom line is all of society needs to deal with this. It’s not just schools.”

The more guns in schools, the greater the chances they will fall into the wrong hands, Mayes said, adding that he could foresee a situation in which police mistake an armed teacher for an intruder intent on doing harm. “That is a scenario for an absolute catastrophe,” Mayes said. “It makes no sense. It’s almost like Sen. Green wants to go back to the Wild West.”

MORE COVERAGE – Easier carry permits haven’t led to more gun deaths

Those who oppose loosening restrictions on guns in schools “aren’t thinking right,” Green countered. “They’re looking at every excuse to ban guns. The president is, too. He wants to ban gun ownership.”

President Obama has called for: reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons, which passed in 1994 and expired in 2004; prohibiting magazines that hold more than 10 rounds; and implementing universal background checks on gun buyers.

“My whole issue with any of this stuff is to allow people to protect themselves,” Green said. “It’s only common sense that tells you when someone with a gun comes into a school, how are you going to protect yourself? I get called a gun whacko because I want people to be able to protect themselves. I’m not a gun whacko. I’m not a crazy person.”

As for the Chelsea teacher who fatally shot the superintendent: “He could have hit him with a hammer,” Green said. “Should we ban hammers in schools?”

As it happened, the teacher, Stephen Leith, was armed with something more lethal than a hammer: a 9-mm, semiautomatic handgun. As school let out that day, Mead, the Chelsea High School principal, was supervising the loading of buses when he saw Leith leave.

That’s odd, he thought, since the two were scheduled to attend a grievance meeting in the superintendent’s office. Mead walked into Superintendent Piasecki’s office and was told that Leith had stormed out in anger.

MORE COVERAGE — Mental health policy is wild card in gun safety

Minutes later, Leith returned and pumped four bullets into Piasecki’s chest, killing him. As Mead started to stand, Leith shot him in the left leg, shattering his femur, and then fired a shot that grazed teacher and union representative Phil Jones in the abdomen. Mead collapsed in a corner next to a filing cabinet.

Twenty years later, Leith is serving life in prison. Mead, now retired, sometimes feels discomfort from the titanium rod in his left leg. When he hears of yet another school shooting, as in Newtown, he thinks back to that day in 1993.

“He wasn’t mentally ill,” Mead said. “He was just mad. Teachers, like anyone else, get mad. If we allow teachers to be armed, it’s only a matter of time before a teacher shoots someone.”

Mead said he doesn’t oppose firearms for hunting, but thinks assault rifles and large magazines should be outlawed. He also favors universal background checks.

Otherwise, “it’s going to happen,” Mead said. “We see it repeatedly. It’s just a matter of when and where.”

Pat Shellenbarger is a freelance writer based in West Michigan. He previously was a reporter and editor at the Detroit News, the St. Petersburg Times and the Grand Rapids Press.

5 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. R A B

    Great story.

  2. karla

    Sen Green needs to read western history. Western towns did not allow citizens to carry guns unless they were police officers or had a specific need for a gun. Gun control has been around since our founding.

  3. Angela Wilson

    As a parent I would be very uncomfortable with a scenario of Rep. Green’s bill was passes, the Governor signs it, and my school board approves allowing anyone to carry a gun in school. School would become a threatening environment every day, all day under this scenario. I would definitely send my child to a different school district in that scenario, even if it meant we had to sell our home and move.

    I applaud our school leaders, Gov. Snyder, Lt. Gov. Calley and other law makers and advocates speaking up against allowing guns to be in schools, hospitals, churches and other places that are currently gun free zones in MI.

  4. Craig

    Sandy Hook is NOT the “new normal.” Anyone throwing up their hands and quitting on gun violence are throwing them up to try to shake the blood off.

  5. Harley Gibson

    “Those who oppose loosening restrictions on guns in schools aren’t thinking right,” Green [Said.] “They’re looking at every excuse to ban guns. The president is, too. He wants to ban gun ownership.”

    People like the senator from 31st District have their argument based on the wrong premise. Folks who are looking for tighter gun control are NOT looking for “every excuse to ban guns.” The senator comes off like so many others on the pro firearm side, acting as if folks are coming at this from a capricious and elitist point of view. For that perspective they are just plain WRONG. From the President on down people are shocked and dismayed by the carnage stemming from firearms.

    These people are looking for ways to curb gun violence in our public settings. They don’t want our guns just to say they took them. I believe the control proponents honestly believe that the right to bear arms needs to be regulated to the extent that these regulations may be able to allow us to take a step in that direction.

    Most control proponents are in earnest as to their belief that of stronger gun control measures can and will reduce firearms crime. As the one gentleman stated, he understands firearms. He holds a CPL and owns firearms himself. The sad truth is that if you really believe that somehow society is conspiring to take away your right to own and bear arms, we may say with some confidence that there is some validity that the unfettered gun rights folks might be a little off their social rockers.

    “I get called a gun whacko because I want people to be able to protect themselves. I’m not a gun whacko. I’m not a crazy person,” the senator added. “And As for the Chelsea teacher who fatally shot the superintendent: He could have hit him with a hammer,” Green said. “Should we ban hammers in schools?” Excuse me, say what?

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