By DAVID EGGERT | Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — People with special permits would be allowed to bring concealed firearms inside schools and other “gun-free” areas under legislation advanced Tuesday by a Senate committee.

The bills, approved 4-1 along party lines by the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee, would let people apply for an exemption to carry their concealed weapon into areas that are currently off limits, including schools, child care centers, sports arenas, large concert halls, bars, places of worship, hospitals, dorms and college classrooms. They would also prohibit people from openly carrying guns in those areas, which permit holders are currently allowed to do under Michigan law.

The question about what type of gun-carrying is allowed in such spaces has led to recent public disputes and lawsuits in Michigan and drawn increased attention since a mass shooting at an Oregon college.

At a crowded hearing, supporters of the legislation said it would allow more people to responsibly carry guns and help prevent mass shootings, contending that shooters target “gun-free” areas where they know victims are not armed. They also argued it would address a loophole that has led to the court fights. Opponents, including many K-12 superintendents, said allowing hidden guns would make schools less safe.

In 2012, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation days after the carnage in Newtown, Connecticut, where a 20-year-old man entered an elementary school and used a semiautomatic rifle to slay 20 first-graders and six adult school staff members before killing himself.

As with that bill, the new legislation sent to the Senate floor includes no provision for local school districts to opt out and decide against allowing people to carry concealed guns in their buildings or on school grounds, a concern Snyder raised in his veto letter. Owners of private property, including property in pistol-free zones, could prohibit people from openly carrying or concealed carrying guns under the latest bills.

The measure “will allow more people to carry in more places,” said the sponsor, Republican Sen. Mike Green of Mayville. “This legislation will allow more citizens the ability to protect themselves and their families in these areas.” East Lansing attorney Steven Dulan of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners said gun-free zones are “mass murder empowerment zones.”

But clergy, school officials and advocates with the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America testified against the legislation.

Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift, whose district banned openly carrying guns in schools earlier this year and is facing a lawsuit from a gun-rights group, cited examples of people accidentally leaving guns in other districts’ buildings. Don Wotruba, executive director of the Michigan Association of Schools Boards, said the organization “fully supports” barring people from openly carry guns in schools.

But “moving to a concealed-carry system only hides the potential danger,” he said. “We do not believe that student safety will be increased.”

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Online:

Senate Bill 442: http://1.usa.gov/1OAlw80

SB 561: http://1.usa.gov/1Ps7XII

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