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Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed two gun bills and will soon sign a third. Her colleagues in the Democratic controlled Legislature say they are already at work drafting additional gun legislation. // Courtesy of the Michigan Executive Office of the Governor
By Janelle D. James, Bridge Michigan
Lansing — Michigan’s Democratic Legislature quickly passed a trio of gun measures, with only the red flag law — intended to remove weapons from people who pose a danger to themselves or others — still to be signed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Democratic leaders and advocates for greater gun restrictions say they’re excited by the victories, but are now turning to additional, and likely more challenging, gun legislation.
Among Democrats’ next targets: Banning the sale of large-capacity magazines, keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and allowing gun manufacturers to be held liable for the deadly toll of gun violence.
Gun safety advocates want this and more, including an assault weapon ban, reining in Michigan’s “open carry” law to prevent weapons from being allowed in sensitive places like schools or places of worship, and devoting more funds to mental health resources.
State Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Keego Harbor, past chair of the Legislature’s Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus, told Bridge Michigan this week that caucus members are working on the bills to prohibit domestic abusers from owning a firearm and holding manufacturers liable for the end result of their product.
Earlier drafts of the red flag legislation included language that would have made it easier for the state to file a lawsuit against gun manufacturers, but that language was later removed to get the red flag bill passed.
“We’re serious here in Michigan about improving the lives of people here. I hope that it’s a signal that in Michigan that you cannot and should not resolve conflict with a firearm.” — Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield
“It’s all about how do you write the legislation to accomplish the goal of holding them responsible in a way that would hold up in court,” Bayer said. It is unclear when new gun bills will be introduced but Bayer confirmed these issues are high up on the caucus’s agenda.
An assault weapon ban is also high on the list of gun safety advocates and at least one Democratic colleague, but Bayer acknowledged the difficulty of passing an assault weapon bill, saying she doesn’t think it will have a lot of public support if it were introduced in this term.
“The polls on assault weapons bans are more like 50/50. We don’t have a big upswell of demand for that,” she said. “It certainly makes more sense for us to look at the things that the people are asking for first and are more likely to be successful.”
Bayer said the more than 50 members of the legislative firearms caucus have discussed limiting magazine capacity as an alternative to an assault weapons ban.
Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said he supports legislation banning assault weapons and a restriction on ammunition magazine capacity.
“When somebody engages in a mass shooting, the reduction of magazine capacity adds that much-needed break in the action so that people can respond, people can flee, people can hopefully be able to stop the incident from occurring,” Moss said.
Moss said he wants to reintroduce a bill he sponsored in 2021 that would prohibit selling or owning a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
“We’re serious here in Michigan about improving the lives of people here,” Moss said. “I hope that it’s a signal that in Michigan that you cannot and should not resolve conflict with a firearm.”
The recently passed gun laws include background checks for all firearms, including long guns; the safe storage of guns in homes where there are minors, along with the red flag law. Whitmer signed the first two measures earlier this month and is expected to sign the red flag law in the coming days.
The measures carry strong punishments for violations. Gun owners, for instance, can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine if a minor obtains a firearm and kills themselves or others.
The legislations’ success is important, and they will save lives, but there is more that can be done, said Saylor Reinders, president of the MSU chapter of Students Demand Action, a national organization of high school and college students that advocates for more stringent gun measures.
“A lot of the shootings we see have to deal with mental health crises and to have more mental health support and other outlets for people … would be very important,” Reinders said.
“I think that the police can sometimes escalate things so I think that it’s important that we have someone that is trained in mental health to deal with mental health crises (working with) the police,” she said.
Rep. Andrew Fink, R-Hillsdale, who opposed the red flag legislation cited several concerns he had, including its vagueness. The law allows judges to sign “extreme risk protection orders” ordering the removal of firearms upon a showing that an individual presents a significant threat to themselves or others.
“The biggest issue with this legislation is … the fact that there doesn’t need to be any kind of psychiatric or physiological evidence submitted to the court,” Fink said.
He said that there should be less focus on firearms and more focus on the issues causing people to use the firearm. It’s why Fink also has concerns about holding manufacturers liable for injuries caused by firearms.
“Firearms are meant to be dangerous. So suing a manufacturer because the firearm is dangerous would essentially mean that they would have to close Michigan as a market for their weapon,” he said.
But advocates for stricter gun laws noted the broad availability of guns has proven deadly for people experiencing depression or other mental health challenges.
“Folks who are struggling with mental health issues are much more likely to harm themselves than to do the harming of others,” said Celeste Kanpurwala, chapter leader for the Michigan chapter of Moms Demand Action.
Kanpurwala said she joined the advocacy group after her father took his own life with his firearm nine years ago.
“I think it’s a crutch that people use to say that ‘it’s a mental health issue’ because ultimately it’s the guns. We know it’s the guns, it’s been proven to be the guns,” she said.
Kanpurwala is also a strong proponent of ending the ‘open carry’ loophole, which allows gun owners to bring their firearm in sensitive places like schools, polling sites, churches, stadiums and bars.
“We’ve seen such horrific shootings take place at places of worship, especially targeting specific groups of people … so we really want to make sure we’re protecting people in places like that,” Kanpurwala said, “We know that guns and alcohol are a deadly combination so places like stadiums and bars are definitely a no.”
Schools, day care centers, churches and taverns are already considered gun-free zones, but since Michigan is an open carry state, licensed individuals are allowed to enter such places with a firearm as long as it is visible.
Other advocates would like to see the legislature take up an assault rifle ban, which is more controversial than the gun safety bills that were passed and signed into law.
“I think we need to have a discussion on assault rifles,” said Katie Cavanaugh who serves on the Okemos Board of Education and is a member of Moms Demand Action. “The assault rifles like the AR-15 are military weapons … that are made to kill. It’s just astounding to me that that’s a weapon that is sold and allowed for the general public.”
Cavanaugh also said she would like to see more money be put into providing schools with more security equipment and student resource officers, security personnel, therapists and mental health support.
“We need more funding put towards security at schools but not just money to buy things,” she said. “Schools need money for salaries and it needs to be every year … not just grants.”
Nine solidly blue states — New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, California and Hawaii — have adopted an assault weapons ban that prohibits purchasing certain weapons designed for military use. Those same states also limit high capacity magazines, as do the states of Vermont, Rhode Island, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
Michigan ranked 24th in the nation for gun law strength, according to EveryTown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for more restrictive gun laws, but that ranking was compiled before Michigan passed the recent gun bills. The state’s gun violence rate stands at 15.4 deaths per 100,000 people, slightly above the national average of 15 deaths per 100,000.
Illinois, which Everytown ranked 7th for the strength of its gun laws, has safe storage laws, requires background checks and prohibits individuals who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors from carrying a concealed weapon, similar to Michigan. Illinois also passed other gun safety laws that prohibit people from having guns if they pose a threat to themselves or others or if they have been convicted of a felony.
Despite its high ranking and array of gun safety measures, Illinois’ gun violence rate of 16.1 deaths per 100,000 people is even worse than Michigan’s.
Janelle D. James covers breaking news at Bridge Michigan. She joined the staff in January 2023. Previously, she worked as a Capital News Correspondent at Michigan State University where she covered state and local policy issues. She also worked as a breaking news intern at the Detroit Free Press. She has a bachelors degree in journalism and political science from Michigan State University. She is from Detroit.
Bridge Michigan is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that provides passionate and rooted Michigan readers with honest, fact-driven journalism on the state’s diverse people, politics, and economy. We serve as your watchdog on the biggest issues impacting your daily life, giving you insightful coverage you can’t get anywhere else. Receive Bridge in your inbox for free by subscribing here.
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