LANSING—A mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 21 people, including 19 pre-teen children, conjured painful memories in Michigan, a state still reeling after a 15-year-old gunman killed four and wounded seven in the small town of Oxford last November.
In the aftermath of the Oxford school shooting, Michigan gun safety advocates pushed for widely popular reforms, such as responsible gun storage and red-flag laws that would allow guns to be temporarily held from individuals deemed by a judge to be a serious risk to themselves or the community. After initial optimism that reforms could see the light of day and prevent future tragedy, Senate Republicans indefinitely pushed back a promised hearing, and gun laws withered on the vine.
Following Tuesday’s shooting, Michigan Senate Democratic leadership–led by Rosemary Bayer (D-Oakland)-took the extraordinary legal step of attempting to push bills that require safe storage of guns around kids to a vote on the floor, using a rare but legal maneuver. Republicans, who are in the majority, rejected the move, saying that it wasn’t the right time to consider the bills.
“These families are grieving. They are still at a point where the weight is so heavy on their chest that they can’t breathe…they don’t give a flying frog what we do here in the Senate. Right now, they’re not paying attention to us,” Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) said, alluding to his own experience with the drowning death of his child. “It’s way too early to assign bill numbers to their grief. Let’s have an honest conversation.”
Republican leaders then adjourned the meeting well ahead of its scheduled itinerary, preventing senators who’d prepared to talk about Uvalde from doing so.
After her bills were dismissed from the floor, Bayer scoffed at the notion that the Senate shouldn’t debate gun legislation today. Bayer led the procedural move to send the bills before the whole Senate, citing urgency in preventing further crises.
On an otherwise uneventful day in Lansing, Bayer suddenly received a text about the Oxford school shooting. She had family members in the school.
In the months afterwards, Bayer met with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who promised a committee hearing for red-flag laws. In February, Bayer told MLive that she expected the hearing in “a month or so.”
Since then, the gun safety package hasn’t budged. Shirkey and Bayer met again, and Shirkey shelved the hearing for “after the election,” likely referring to November’s general election, Bayer said. After a meeting with a family of the Oxford victim, Shirkey gave the impression he would hold a hearing after the August primaries, Bayer said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Shirkey’s office had not responded to calls and emails.
Bayer told The ‘Gander she’s not optimistic that the hearing will ever happen with Republicans in charge.
“I don’t have total confidence in him,” Bayer, who chairs the legislative Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus, said on Wednesday. “I don’t trust that he’s going to follow through on this.”
Gun safety advocates have pointed to the latest tragedy as evidence that these sorts of reforms are needed. With Republicans in charge, the Michigan state legislature refused to put dozens of reforms—many that poll popularly—to a vote.
The Giffords Law Center rates Michigan a C+ for gun safety. This year, the state has experienced a 35% increase in the rate of gun deaths.
A Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics poll found that 70% of Michigan residents and 64% of Republicans in the state supported red-flag laws like those for which Shirkey had promised a hearing.
“While they’re in the majority, they’ll continue to drive that agenda, and they’ll continue to shut us down, just like they did today,” Bayer said of Republicans, who currently have six more Senators on their side of the aisle.
In Texas, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos bought two guns on the day of his last birthday leading up to the shooting. Yesterday, he shot his grandmother at home, and then fled in a car to escape the scene before crashing in a ditch. Ramos entered the school brandishing an assault rifle, ammunition, and a tactical vest, barricaded himself in a pair of connected classrooms and indiscriminately opened fire on teachers and students.
The school shooting was the deadliest since Sandy Hook in 2012.
In related news this week, families of those killed in the Oxford shooting filed a lawsuit alleging Oxford High School employees broke child protection laws and failed to follow up on threats made by the shooter.