By Tom Peterson, Michigan Advance
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks to supporters during a ceremony in Royal Oak in Oakland County on Monday to sign red flag gun legislation. // Courtesy photo via Bridge Michigan
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday signed “red flag” legislation into law, making Michigan the 21st state to enact a law designed to prevent people posing a risk to themselves or others from possessing a gun.
The law, expected to take effect next spring, is of three gun reform bills Michigan Democrats vowed to pass when they assumed the majority in the state Legislature in January.
Whitmer signed the bill at a ceremony in Royal Oak, three days after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, also a Democrat, signed a similar law into effect.
“These laws, more than anything else, will buy time — time to prevent the worst case scenario, time to save lives,” said Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, at the event.
McMorrow was the main sponsor of the bill in the Senate. Others also at the Monday event included Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Attorney General Dana Nessel, state Rep. Kelly Breen, D-Novi, Wayne County and Oakland County prosecutors Kym Worthy and Karen McDonald, as well as former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived a shot to the head.
The signing of the red flag law — also known as the extreme risk protection order law — came a month after Whitmer signed two other laws requiring gun owners to securely store their firearms and establishing universal background checks for gun purchases.
The event came three months after the Feb. 13 Michigan State University shooting, where a gunman shot and killed three students and injured five others before killing himself.
“So many of the perpetrators showed warning signs beforehand,” Whitmer said at the signing ceremony Monday. “Now we have a way to confiscate weapons from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.”
Under the new law, family members, current and ex-spouses, dating partners, police and mental health professionals could petition the court for an extreme risk protection order in any Michigan county.
The judge would have up to 24 hours to decide whether to grant the order. Once granted, the police would have to notify the gun owner and give them up to 24 hours to voluntarily hand over the weapon before confiscation. The judge also would have to conduct a hearing within 14 days after the order is served to the gun owner. The order typically lasts a year.
Advocates have argued the law can help save lives. Mary Miller, an anti-gun violence advocate from nearby Berkley in Oakland County, said at the Monday event that her brother, Ben, was able to buy a gun and kill himself in a moment of mental health crisis.
“These laws, more than anything else, will buy time — time to prevent the worst case scenario, time to save lives.” — Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak
“My dad and I went to every gun store in our small town, and we showed a picture of my brother, begged them: ‘Please do not sell him a gun,’” Miller recalled. “We were unsuccessful that day.”
“The extreme risk protection order law will do so much to save many Michigan families from the tragedy my family has endured,” she added.
Opponents of the law say it would deny due process to those whose guns are removed. Reps. Andrew Fink, R-Hillsdale, and Graham Filler, R-Saint Johns, argued in an opinion piece the law would endanger law enforcement on top of violating a citizen’s constitutional rights.
The National Association of Gun Rights issued a statement Monday saying the orders are “ripe for abuse.”
“Red flag laws target law-abiding citizens who have not committed a crime, in other words, it’s an unconstitutional ‘pre crime’ program like you’d expect to see in a dictatorship,” said Dudley Brown, president of the group.
Some law enforcement officials in Michigan, including Livingston County, have said they won’t enforce red-flag laws and believe they are unconstitutional. More than half of Michigan’s 83 counties have also declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” signaling possible resistance to the law.
While some studies have shown evidence that the red flag law helps reduce suicides or other firearm-related injuries, scholars have cautioned that more research is needed to determine the laws’ effectiveness.
The law is well received among gun owners, according to national polls. In an NPR surveylast year, 65 percent of all surveyed gun owners favored red flag laws. It is also in effect in both Republican and Democratic states, from Florida to Indiana.
Guns are the leading weapon used in both suicides and homicides in Michigan, state data shows. Guns were used in 53 percent of Michigan’s nearly 1,400 suicides in 2020. And between 2014 and 2018, roughly 75 percent of all homicide victims died by a firearm.
Democrats have vowed to push for more gun legislation, including measures that ban high-capacity magazines, prohibit domestic abusers from accessing a gun and allow people to hold gun manufacturers liable for firearm deaths.
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