Need to Know

  • The freshman senator, whose district includes the site of a deadly school shooting, is reintroducing bills with new hope that progress could be made.
  • Bayer had a recent meeting with the Senate majority leader, who promised a hearing for “red flag” laws.
  • A 2018 poll found that 70% of Michiganders support red flag bills that have previously been introduced.

OXFORD, Mich.—State Sen. Rosemary Bayer remembers the moment the news alert flash on her screen: Shots had been fired inside of Oxford High School. Adrenaline pumping through her veins, she went into “semi-panic” mode.

She had two second cousins at Oxford High School. 

“Everything started happening all at once,” said Bayer, a freshman legislator who represents the 12th state Senate district, which includes Oxford. 

Within the first hour, two students that Bayer knew personally texted her, saying that they were OK. 

Then, she got in contact with her cousins’ father. They too were safe.

But as news trickled in, it became clear that the community would not recover any time soon. Three students were dead and more were badly hurt; eventually, a fourth victim died.

“The first news, there was nothing: There was a shooter at Oxford High School, and your heart just sinks,” Bayer recalled. “Then your heart starts beating at a hundred miles a minute and you’re thinking, ‘What do we do? What do we do?’”

In the weeks following that horrific day, Bayer and her team spoke with countless students, parents, and community members. Many wanted to be left alone. Others were angry—wanting action.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Sign up for our newsletter

It didn’t take long for Bayer to do something.

In December 2021—days after the deadliest US school shooting since 2018—Bayer and other members of the Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus introduced a pair of bills that would limit the capacity of gun magazines Michiganders are legally able to purchase and possess. 

Research has indicated that reducing the number of rounds a magazine can carry is one of the best ways to prevent mass tragedies: When a shooter has to reload, authorities or good samaritans have time to intervene. 

According to area authorities, the alleged school shooter had three 15-round magazines. Bayer’s legislation would make 10 rounds the maximum, with criminal charges attached to possession and distribution of higher-capacity magazines.

“The horrific mass shooting at Oxford High School has left a community devastated,” said Sean Holihan, state legislative director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence—named after former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011 at an event with constituents but survived. “It’s important now, more than ever, to pass lifesaving gun laws to prevent these tragedies from happening again.”

But this wasn’t the first time that legislation on magazine sizes had been proposed in the Michigan Senate. 

Rather, Democrats have brought up the same gun safety legislation year after year, only to have it fizzle in Republican-controlled committees, never receiving so much as a hearing—let alone a vote on the floor. Prior to the shooting, more than 50 bills were introduced in 2021 with no action. 

“There are days where you just want to pull your hair out,” Bayer, a Democrat, said. “But it does steel your resolve.”

Bayer and her colleagues have touted “common-sense” gun reform bills as ways to reduce violence for years. 

For example, Bayer introduced a bill last year that would require safe storage of guns at family homes—under the potential consequence of a felony for the gun owners. Under these bills, if a child got hold of a gun and hurt themselves or someone else, the parents could be sent to jail for up to five years. Research has found that safe storage laws reduce deaths among children.

Another effective tool at preventing mass shootings and other acts of gun violence is extreme risk or “red flag” legislation. Such a policy—which has been introduced a number of times in Michigan since at least 2019 with no support from the GOP—would give concerned family and friends a legal avenue to remove access to guns from someone they fear may hurt themselves or others. 

These sorts of bills, Democrats say, might have made a difference in Oxford.

“Any of those three packages could’ve changed some of the outcome that day,” Bayer said.

A Long Road to Politics

Bayer wasn’t always so invested in gun safety. For many years, she focused on data and technology, leading her own IT company that helped nonprofits utilize data to understand their impact. 

Through that, she became entrenched in a multi-year study on mental health in Metro Detroit, where the data spoke loudly on inequities in schools and housing.

“Really getting involved with people and solving big social issues became where I had to be,” Bayer said.

That pull to strive to make an impact on a wider scale drew her to work for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, and, later, to run for office after Donald Trump’s win. It took some convincing, however. “Engineers do not run for office” was her common deflection, Bayer said.

With a vacancy in the state Senate, Bayer started knocking on doors and learning what people in the 12th district cared about. Through those conversations, she developed a platform focusing on three main issues: mental health, education, and environment. 

Eeking out a win in 2019 by fewer than 1,000 votes in a formerly Republican district, Bayer’s platform resonated with voters. She’s represented the district since, and will be up for re-election in November.

Then Till Now

Though she’s no longer in IT, Bayer is still data-driven as a state senator. Her venture into advocating for gun safety actually began as a quest to further mental health services and, by extension, prevent suicides.

Bayer couldn’t get onto the suicide prevention commission because she lacked seniority. So instead, she joined the Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus, where she found significant statistical overlap between what prevents suicide and what prevents gun deaths.

In 2020, the number of people who died by gun reached an all-time high, and more than half of those deaths were suicides. Bayer is cognizant of that, which is one reason she’s adamant that gun safety legislation sees its day on the Senate floor.

“It just seems so obvious that we need to put something like this in place,” Bayer said, referring to the proposals she’s championed.

A 2018 poll in Michigan found that more than 70% of Michiganders support red flag legislation.

Meanwhile, 60% of Midwesterners support stricter gun control laws and only 5% oppose them, according to a Gallup poll last year.

A Change in the Winds

As frustrating as it’s been watching these bills stall in committee, Bayer said she’s felt a shift in the winds. She believes people have grown tired of the Republican-controlled legislature’s inaction. 

As of early February, it seems that change is in motion. 

Bayer met with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, who promised a hearing on her red flag bills, which were reintroduced in the Senate this week. Bayer said she expects a committee hearing to come within the next month, MLive reports. 

It’s the first time gun legislation will receive time in the capitol this legislative session—which has lasted longer than a year.

“We did have a good discussion. I certainly did not get everything I asked for but we are going to have a hearing on the red flag bills,” Bayer told MLive a day after the meeting, shortly after her interview with The ‘Gander.

Bayer hopes that this is just the beginning.

“We want to be a leader in this space,” she said. “We want to help not just fix our problems but actually take the lead and move us forward in a significant way.”

READ MORE: Gun Makers Have Been Accused of Marketing to Gangs. Michigan’s Attorney General Wants to Hold Them Accountable.