Weeks After MSU Shooting, Michigan Democrats Are Set to Pass Life-Saving Gun Safety Reforms

State Rep. Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac, left, and State Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Keego Harbor, join hands during a news conference to call for gun reform, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

By Kyle Kaminski

March 21, 2023

LANSING—Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives could take a vote on a sweeping 11-bill gun safety package as early as this week, after new red flag laws and requirements for safe storage and background checks cleared the state Senate last week.

Two school mass shootings in 15 months, including one last month at Michigan State University, have pushed Democrats to act quickly and reform the state’s gun laws. 

“After years of things just getting worse, we are finally taking action to begin the process of making our state safer. Making our kids, our families, all the people of Michigan safer today,” Democratic state Sen. Rosemary Bayer said.

Senators approved a bulk of the package on a 20-17 vote, sending it to the Democratic-led House, where it can be brought up as early as this week. If and when it passes there, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said that she will act quickly to sign the legislation into law. 

State law currently requires someone buying firearms such as rifles or shotguns to be 18 years or older and at least 21 years old to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed dealer. Certain licenses allow 18-year-olds to purchase handguns from private sellers.

The new legislation would require anyone purchasing a rifle or shotgun to first undergo a background check, which is currently only required for handgun purchases, and to also register for any firearm purchase. Additionally, it would implement new safe storage laws, which would create “penalties for storing or leaving a firearm where it may be accessed by a minor.”

Also included in the legislation are allowances for new statewide red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, which are intended to temporarily remove guns from people with potentially violent behavior, and prevent them from hurting themselves or others.

The bills were introduced in the days following a mass shooting at MSU where 43-year-old Anthony McRae, armed with two handguns and dozens of rounds of ammunition, terrorized the East Lansing campus for four hours as students were ordered to shelter in place. 

Students killed in the shooting were Arielle Anderson, 19; Brian Fraser, 20; and Alexandria Verner, 20, all of suburban Detroit. 

Much of the package was crafted by Democrats nearly 15 months ago, following a shooting at Oxford High School, but the bills saw little movement with Republicans controlling the House and Senate. Republicans also opposed them this year, though now they’re in the minority.

“Common sense gun safety protections should be a no-brainer, but Republicans continue to put the interests of big gun manufacturers over the safety of our children and grandchildren,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said in a statement after last week’s vote.

Polls show that most Michiganders also support the pending gun reform legislation. 

Recent polling from Progress Michigan shows that nearly 8 in 10 Michigan voters (77%) support universal background checks, with at least 62% of voters also supporting new red flag laws and safe storage requirements. About 49% of voters also said they believed the legislation will reduce gun violence, while only 36% said they don’t think it will make a difference.

Another poll from Giffords showed that 21% of Michigan voters picked gun reforms as their “top priority” for Michigan—beating out all other issues, including the economy, inflation, public safety and education. Additionally, the poll showed that 89% of voters support background checks. 

“The time for action is long past due,” said Christina Schlitt, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. “Michigan residents are channeling the pain, fear, grief and anger we experience when gun violence tears a community apart and turning them into action.”

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011 in an assassination attempt, looked on to the Senate floor from the gallery as the legislation was approved Thursday. 

Last week, she and other leaders, including US Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Debbie Dingell, rallied alongside MSU students at the state Capitol as lawmakers promised the 11-bill package is only the beginning of gun reform in the state.

“We know that one or even 11 bills are not going to be the entire solution,” Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks said last week. “While the opposition will use that as an excuse to do nothing, we are using that as fuel to start taking steps now.”

President Joe Biden also signed an executive order last week aimed at stiffening background checks to buy guns and promoting more secure firearms storage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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