“Do you know what violence is?” George Allen asks me.

Allen and I are sitting in the shotgun shack of the Capital Area Sportsmen’s League. He has been the league president for 10 years.

A cash register, refrigerator, coffee pot, tables and chairs decorate the small room. Deer antlers and a red National Rifle Association flag hang on the wall.

The shack is one of a few buildings that sit on about 165 acres in Delta Township, 1 1/2 miles north of Horrock’s Farm Market on Saginaw Highway.

“This is violence,” Allen says as he pulls out a fake orange plastic handgun and points it at my face.

“Now, are you prepared to deal with violence?” he asks.

As I think about Allen’s question, I look down at my hands because I don’t have any weapons. I once took a hunter’s safety course in middle school.

“Are you prepared?” Allen asks again.

“As best I can,” I reply.

Allen still has the fake gun pointed at me.

“No, you are not,” he said. “Don’t prepare and you’re going to be in a shit storm.”

Indeed — “Send lawyers, guns and money, the shit has hit the fan,” Warren Zevon once sang.

The gun control debate in this country got electric after the shooting in Tucson Jan. 8 that left six dead — including a federal district court judge and a 9-year-old girl — and a congresswoman in critical condition.

Gun control advocates called for limiting the number of rounds in a clip or setting minimum distance requirements for carrying guns around politicians. Gun rights advocates say less regulation and a better mental health system is more logical.

In Michigan, a favorable state for gun owners, there is legislation afoot (crafted by a Democrat) that would eliminate the state’s gun-free zones. In Lansing, two people recently walked through the downtown Capital Area District Library openly carrying guns. One had a shotgun over his shoulder.

But not everyone has warmed to the idea of being around well-engineered hunks of steel capable of ending a human in seconds.

And yet, the gun rights folks are having it their way thanks to a powerful political lobby, ambiguous gun control demands and the belief that, well, guns are America.

What is stopping gun control?

Kenneth Harrow is a professor of English at Michigan State University and member of the Greater Lansing Network Against War and Injustice. Harrow said GLNAWI took a mild position on gun control following the Tucson shooting, calling for things like more money for mental health or stronger background checks.

“We were kind of shy as a group,” he said. “I don’t know what that represents. It shows really how weak the gun control lobby working against the gun lobby may be.”

But, speaking for himself, Harrow is more candid.

Harrow moved to Michigan from New York City in 1966. He didn’t see many guns growing up. When he moved to Michigan, he saw the hunting culture and his perception changed. “I became more receptive to the idea of people owning guns.” When people were allowed to carry pistols, Harrow said guns moved from the country into the cities. “The permission to hunt didn’t exist in a vacuum anymore, and it had implications for inner cities, like Detroit,” he said. “There needs to be a balance and we don’t have it. The NRA (National Rifle Association) has been able to successfully mobilize people and they’ve created a nightmare.”

And once you’ve got Harrow started on the NRA … .

“The notion that you can have a semi-automatic weapon that is relatively easily acquired and fires a lot of rounds of bullets — the notion that we can do that in our society is totally insane,” he said. He understands people want to protect themselves, but he questions the risks in the long run. While owning guns has value (protection), the costs (more guns) outweigh the benefits, Harrow says. “Even if I manage to be a great shot and kill an intruder, the danger of guns to society as a whole is greatly increased,” Harrow said. “(Self-defense) is a selfish argument. You balance the individual desire with the greater needs of society. The needs of society need to prevail.”

And he calls out Democrats who have bowed to the NRA. “Democrats have been cowed by a very large group (in the NRA). The NRA is powerful enough to intimidate politicians,” he said. “Democrats are afraid to take a position (on gun control). I find that abhorrent.” Unfortunately, Harrow adds, this is a political issue, even though he wishes it wasn’t. “It’s too damn bad the Democrats have no courage on this matter.”

Guns and mental health

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, appeared on the “City Pulse on the Air” radio show the week after the Tucson shooting. He was quick to say that the event was not a result of unfettered gun laws, but of a failed mental health system.

Bob Sheehan, executive director of Clinton-Eaton-Ingham
Community Mental Health, said one misconception arises when drawing
that conclusion: that mentally ill people are all violent and need to be
closely watched. “The public has very odd notions of mental illness,”
he said. “People with mental illness are far more likely to be victims
than not.”

said it’s wrong to debate whether it’s a gun control problem or a failed
mental health system. “I think that’s a false dichotomy,” he said.
“Most gun violence is done by people who aren’t mentally ill.”

offers three suggestions for making headway in the guns debate: better
access to mental health care, continue the movement to remove the stigma
from mental illness and improving civil liberties for those with mental
illness. “In Ingham County, 700 people at any one time are on court
orders for mental health. But not for diabetes,” Sheehan said. “We as a
society are concerned by people with mental health needs.” And in the
end, there simply needs to be more funding for mental health services.
Sheehan says the tax dollars devoted to mental health is the lowest it’s
been in 30 years. “I’m concerned that the common good is eroded when we
say we’d like to take care of the mentally ill but we don’t have the
money,” he said.

County Medical Examiner Dean Sienko agrees that mental health services
are badly underfunded. As for what happened in Tucson, the fact that
there are millions of guns in America should not be overlooked. “We can
come up with a number of reasons to try and explain this,” Sienko said.
“Vitriolic political talk, underfunding of mental health. But from my standpoint, when people have such easy access to firearms we will continue to deal with this.”

has served 30 years in the Army National Guard. He was deployed three
times: the Persian Gulf War, Kosovo and Iraq in 2003. “There is
certainly something to be said for (the mental health system),” he said.
“But a large number of people can walk into a gun store, buy an assault
weapon with a clip that fires off any number of rounds in how many
seconds. Why do you need that? We’re not living in combat here in the

As of Jan. 3,
the state approved 255,874 Concealed Pistol License (CPL) permits.
That’s about one permit for every 39 people. Nearly 5,000 of them are in
Ingham County, while Eaton and Clinton counties account for about 5,500

2005 and 2009, there were 69 homicides in Ingham County. Thirtyfour of
those (49 percent) were from guns. In the same time period, there were
150 suicides in Ingham County. Fifty eight (38
percent) of those were with guns. The state also tracks crime rates
among concealed weapons permit holders and publishes statistics
annually. In 2008-2009, 1,292 charges were brought against CPL holders
for various crimes. Most of the charges were still pending at the time
of the report (577). About 28 percent (366) led to convictions, while in
349 cases (27 percent) the charges were dismissed or the suspect was
found not guilty.

How Michigan stacks up

has been a “shall-issue” state since 2001 and is one of 37 such states.
This means that when applying for a concealed weapons permit (a permit
is required to carry concealed in Michigan), the state must issue it if
certain criteria are met. A “may-issue” state leaves the ultimate
decision up to a granting authority. There are also three “unrestricted”
states, including Arizona, that do not require a permit for carrying a
concealed weapon. Wisconsin, Illinois and Washington, D.C., are
“no-issue” jurisdictions.

Michigan, a permit is not required to buy a rifle or shotgun, though
you must be 18 years old and cannot be a convicted felon. For a
Concealed Pistol License, you must be 21, free of mental illness, a
resident in Michigan for at least six months and successfully complete a
training course. You cannot have been dishonorably discharged from the
military or have been convicted of certain misdemeanors, such as
operating a vehicle under the influence. You also need a permit to buy a
handgun if you don’t plan on carrying it concealed.

Michigan is also an “open carry” state. A
permit is not required to openly carry a firearm in public. However,
you do need a concealed weapons permit to open carry in your car.

states (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, New York
and Illinois) and the District of Columbia completely restrict open
carry, while the rest of the states have various levels of regulations.

Trends indicate that nationwide, more states are opening up to shall-issue and open carry policies.

Jan. 13, state Rep. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland, introduced House Bill
4009, which proposes to do away with the state’s pistol-free zones:
school property, daycare facilities, a sports arena/stadium or
entertainment facility that holds more than 2,500 people, taverns,
church property, dorms, classrooms and casinos. LeBlanc did not return
calls for comment, but Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, who is the
minority vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where the bill was
referred, said it would be a substantial change.“I would probably never
vote for it,” he said, adding that
similar bills have surfaced in the past two legislative sessions
without coming up for a hearing. “We had more important things to do.”
Meadows added that the pistol-free zones were “part of the deal that was
cut to liberalize concealed weapons. I have no problem with CCW
provisions, but it’s a deal that was cut and should be honored.”

‘Sheep and wolves’

Capital Area Sportsmen’s League formed in 1935 as the Ingham County
Conservation League. It has about 460 members. All ages are welcome to
practice shooting shotguns, rifles, pistols and bows and arrows.

the league president, believes there are two kinds of people in the
guns debate: “sheep and wolves.” The sheep are those who argue peace can
only be achieved when guns are eliminated from society. The wolves use
guns to prevent violence, he says. “You’ve got sheep and you’ve got
wolves. You’ve got meat eaters and grass eaters,” Allen said. “Predators
are people who perpetuate the violence first. And you want to blame
that on a gun? Sarah Palin? Rhetoric?”

Allen says you can’t expect
someone else to protect you, even the police. “If you accept the cliché
of the liberal establishment that guns are bad and you can’t talk about
it,” Allen started. He was getting worked up at the thought of liberals. “This is all crazy crap. It’s the way you create sheep.”

I couldn’t help wondering what Allen’s personal firearms collection looks like.

“How many guns do you own?” I ask Allen.

“Not a good question,” he replied and moved on.

carries weapons like most people carry pocket change, a cell phone or
perhaps a wallet. He is enrolled in a class on using a cane for
self-defense. He walks just fine, but the sharp, pointed handle on the
oak cane could come in useful should something happen on, say, an
airplane. He has a bottle of pepper spray on his key chain and two
knives (a Spider and a Swiss Army) in his pocket. He says he could pop
out my eyes with his thumbs. He prefers his pistol tucked into his pants
above the right front pocket. He’s always prepared because “when
seconds matter, the police are only minutes away.”

is 56 years old. At 18, he spent $32 on a rifle at K-Mart because his
mother never let him have a gun when he was a kid. He has a sturdy
build, close to 6 feet tall. His eyes are stern behind modern glasses as
he answers questions with questions. A few gray hairs are noticeable in
his black flattop. He’s a religious man, and it shows in his passion for firearms. He tells me why it’s important to defend oneself.

you believe in a creator, then you have to believe that your life
itself has some tie to that creator. Your gift of life came from
somewhere,” he said. “If you can’t defend your life, you really are
abusing that gift.”

The gun show

Sunday, the state’s traveling gun and knife show was in Flint at Perani
Arena just off Interstate 69. It will be in Lansing Feb. 11-13 and
again April 8-10.

Thousands and thousands of weapons. Ruger. Smith and Wesson. A Colt assault rifle for $1,395. A 12-gauge Remington shotgun with a 28-inch barrel for $550.

are modern, while others look medieval. One exhibitor had swords,
morning stars (those clubs with a spiked ball at the end the size of a
softball), sai and nunchuks — the complete Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Doug Carl
owns Sport Shows Promotions and has been putting the event on for 25
years. He has been in the gun business for 40 and owns Total Firearms in

Journalists have to get permission from Carl to do any interviews at his shows. No cameras are allowed.

“I’m real leery of the liberal media,” he said.

talk of Arizona: “He (Jared Loughner) was just an insane idiot. It
doesn’t have anything to do with gun control,” he said. “Anyone that’s
got a suggestion on what gun law would have stopped him, have them write
into your paper.”

talk of gun show policies: “We don’t allow any concealed carry. Not
because we don’t trust them but because the insurance company doesn’t
allow it. Safety is our No. 1 concern. Dollars are secondary. No

This is
one of the smallest gun shows he’s put on, Carl said. He averages
between 47 and 50 a year. On Sunday there were about 120 exhibitors from
all over the country. Depending on the size of the show, Carl gets
between 2,000 and 10,000 visitors. At $5 a ticket, that’s not a bad gig.

lets me interview Al Stark, owner of Al’s Appliance Long Guns and Hand
Guns in Bad Axe. Stark has been an exhibitor at Carl’s gun shows for
nearly 19 years. The gun laws in Michigan are “a bit tight,” Stark says.
And there should be no litigation if you kill an intruder. “My house,
my castle, my family — it’s biblical common sense,” he said. “We don’t
need liberals’ laws trying to take guns.”

Stark, guns are as normal as learning to walk and talk. They are the
American way, right up there with religion, kin and killing anyone or
anything that gets in the way. “This country was founded on God, family,
guns and guts,” Stark says.

And he’s confident of that.

“To Bear or Not to Bear: Guns in Educational Institutions”

A symposium featuring John Lott and other nationally recognized figures on both sides of the guns in schools debate.

Feb. 4 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Cooley Law School, Temple Building. 217 S. Capitol
Ave. downtown Lansing Free and open to the public Co-sponsored by the
Thomas M. Cooley Law Journal and the Cooley chapter of The Federalist