Putting aside for the moment your personal preference for packing in all settings versus keeping the Children's Reading Corner free of assault rifles, last week's Court of Appeals decision reversing the trial court's decision allowing the Capital Area District Library to keep its libraries gun-free makes for interesting reading. The majority opinion (PDF) expressed discomfort with the idea of guns in public libraries while making the case for why state statute prevails:
The library is a quasi-municipal corporation and, thus, a governmental agency subject to the principles of preemption when it attempts to regulate subject matter that is regulated by the Legislature. The Legislature, through MCL 123.1102, has expressly prohibited local government regulation of firearms and ammunition generally in cities, villages, townships, and counties, including in their libraries. Although a district library is not a local unit of government as defined by MCL 123.1101(a), legislative history, the pervasiveness of the Legislature’s regulation of firearms, and the need for exclusive, uniform state regulation of firearm possession as compared to a patchwork of inconsistent local regulations indicate that the Legislature has completely occupied the field that CADL seeks to enter. Certainly, at a time where this country has witnessed tragic and horrific mass shootings in places of public gathering, the presence of weapons in a library where people of all ages—particularly our youth—gather is alarming and an issue of great concern. However, due to field preemption, the same regulations that apply to public libraries established by one local unit of government apply to those established by two or more local units of government—leaving the matter to the state.
The majority reached that conclusion using a legislative intent analysis, including reference to legislative history, notwithstanding the text of the statute. Specifically:
[W]hile the express language of the statute fails to include a district library among its definition of local units of government, the legislative history supports a finding that the purpose of the statute would only be served by leaving it to the state to regulate firearm possession in all buildings established by local units of government, including district libraries.
But Judge Elizabeth Gleicher wrote in dissent (PDF) that the plain language of MCL 123.1101(a) "renders preemption analysis superfluous":
We may not presume that the Legislature mistakenly or inadvertently omitted district libraries or authorities from the definition of “a local unit of government.” When “statutory language is certain and unambiguous, judicial construction is neither required nor permitted, and courts must apply the statute as written.” Turner v Auto Club Ins Ass’n, 448 Mich 22, 27; 528 NW2d 681 (1995). “Courts cannot assume that the Legislature inadvertently omitted from one statute the language that it placed in another statute[.]” People v Monaco, 474 Mich 48, 58; 710 NW2d 46 (2006) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The rules governing statutory construction also forbid this Court from deducing that the Legislature “mistakenly utilized one word or phrase instead of another.” Chaney v Dep’t of Transp, 447 Mich 145, 165; 523 NW2d 762 (1994). Nor may courts “assume that the Legislature inadvertently omitted from one statute the language that it placed in another, and then, on the basis of that assumption, apply what is not there.” Peltola, 489 Mich at 185 (quotation marks and citation omitted). See also Reichert v Peoples State Bank, 265 Mich 668, 672; 252 NW 484 (1934) (“It is to be assumed that the legislature . . . had full knowledge of the provisions of [the relevant statute] and we have no right to enter the legislative field and, upon assumption of unintentional omission . . . , supply what we may think might well have been incorporated.”)
This case illustrates that when applied in a manner untethered to the text, the Llewellyn guidelines empower judges to inject their own policy preferences into the task of statutory construction. Given the clarity of the statutes here at issue, the majority’s determination that the Legislature meant to preempt the field of firearm regulation turns on judicial opinions unmoored from the actual words selected by the Legislature. Whether “[a]n exclusive, uniform state regulatory scheme for firearm possession is far more efficient for purposes of obedience and enforcement than a patchwork of local regulation,” is not our concern. Nor are the pros and cons of openly carrying weapons into a place devoted to quiet reading and study. Our only task is to apply well-established legal principles to the task of interpreting a statute. In my view, the statute is susceptible to only one interpretation, and that interpretation compels us to affirm the circuit court.
The Michigan Supreme Court has expressed strong views about statutory interpretation and the use of legislative history to determine legislative intent. It is not clear whether the decision will be appealed or whether the Court would take the appeal, but if they did, its decision could make for equally interesting reading.