Whitmer Signs Historic New Legislation to Curb Gun Violence in Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks after signing gun safety legislation in East Lansing on April 13. (Courtesy/Gov. Gretchen Whitmer)

By Kyle Kaminski
April 13, 2023

Democrats in the state Legislature promised meaningful gun safety reforms after another senseless mass shooting. Now, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is carrying the bills to the finish line.

MICHIGAN—New legislation signed into law this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer aims to make Michigan a safer place—namely by ensuring that guns are kept out of the hands of children and young teenagers, and requiring background checks be completed before all firearm purchases.

“Today, we are turning our pain into purpose and honoring those we have lost with common-sense gun violence prevention legislation supported by a majority of Michiganders,” Whitmer said Thursday in a statement announcing the signing of the historic legislation. “We will keep working together to prevent mass shootings, reduce gun violence and save lives.”

Whitmer first proposed the legislation during her State of the State address in January, and for the last few months has been working closely with lawmakers to push the reforms into state law. The shooting at Michigan State University in February was also a major catalyst for changes.

Here’s a quick overview of the newly signed legislation:

Safe Storage 

Senate Bill 79—introduced by Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-West Bloomfield)—protects children by requiring those with children in their homes (or the reasonable expectation that there will be children in their homes) to keep their guns unloaded and locked up in a secure container with a trigger-locking mechanism. It also includes a range of criminal charges for those who fail to secure guns which later end up in the hands of children—starting with a 93-day misdemeanor, and escalating to a potential 15-year felony if the unsecured gun is used to kill another person.

Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-West Bloomfield) speaks about recent gun reforms in East Lansing on April 13. (Courtesy/Gov. Gretchen Whitmer)

“Finally, there is a tiny stitch to begin healing my heart, broken from the Oxford school shootings, the MSU school shootings, and every injury or death from accidental shootings of or by children,” Bayer said in a statement. “Finally, we are doing our job, passing legislation, taking our first steps to manage this out-of-control gun violence situation in Michigan.”

Whitmer also signed Senate Bill 80, which was introduced by Sen. Kristen Mcdonald Rivet (D-Bay City) and updates the state’s criminal code to align with the new safe storage requirements.

“We can’t thrive without feeling and being safe,” McDonald Rivet said in a statement. “That’s why overwhelming majorities in Michigan, including gun owners, support the action we’re taking. This is about protecting our children and preventing tragedies from upending our communities.”

Recent polling from Progress Michigan showed that 62% of voters supported the new safe storage requirements. Another new poll from Giffords, a gun safety advocacy group, showed that about 21% of Michigan voters picked gun reforms as their “top priority” for Michigan—beating out all other issues, like the economy, inflation, public safety, and education.

Universal Background Checks

The signing of House Bills 4138 and 4142—which were introduced by Reps. Jaime Churches (D-Grosse Ile) and Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac)—closed a loophole in state law that had allowed people to purchase rifles and long guns without first undergoing a background check.

The new law requires Michiganders to obtain a license before they can purchase a rifle or long gun, which mirrors the process that’s currently in place for pistols, and means that background checks will be required for all gun purchases. Those who already own rifles will not need to undergo a background check—but anyone who inherits them will need to get licensed. 

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)

“It is our collective responsibility to keep students safe,” Churches said in a statement after Whitmer signed her bill. “This legislation provides a foundation to help build a safer Michigan—so no student, no worshiper, no law enforcement officer—has to fear for their safety.”

Added Carter: “Michigan has not been spared from our nation’s plague of gun violence. For years now, the Legislature in Michigan has been paralyzed to act. No more.”

Polls show that nearly 8 in 10 Michigan voters (77%) support universal background checks. About 49% of voters also said they believed the new legislation would be effective in reducing gun violence in Michigan, while only 36% said they didn’t think it would make a difference.

Both of the new laws will take effect next year.

On Deck: Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives are also crafting legislation for new extreme risk protection orders, also known as red flag laws, which would allow judges to have guns temporarily confiscated from those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

The proposed legislation—which is expected to clear the House on Thursday—would create a legal mechanism to temporarily remove guns from people with potentially violent behavior through a judge’s order, and only at the request of law enforcement or family members.

These laws currently exist in 19 other states. And despite conspiracy theories perpetuated by the Michigan Republican Party, they would not give the government broad authority to “disarm” Michiganders. An Associated Press analysis found many states with red flag laws used them only sparingly. And in the rare cases where they’re used, research shows they can save lives.

What are People Saying?

Gun safety groups across Michigan lauded the newly signed “common-sense” legislation as effective—and long overdue—tools to help reduce gun violence across the state. Much of the package was crafted by Democrats more than a year ago following the shooting at Oxford High School, but the bills saw little movement with Republicans controlling the House and Senate.

Nearly every Republican lawmaker also opposed them when they resurfaced again this year. But the tide finally began to change after the general election in November, when Democrats took charge of both chambers of the state Legislature for the first time since the early 1980s

“For years citizens from across the country have been crying out for common sense gun laws mostly to no avail,” said Pastor Barry Randolph, of the Church of the Messiah Detroit, in a statement. “Michigan will now lead the way with the signing of this bill. Michigan residents can now rest assured knowing that steps have been made to make our communities much safer.”

Law enforcement officers—like Marquette County Sheriff Gregory Zyburt—have also stood in support of the newly passed legislation as an effective way to curb crime in local communities.

“This legislation is a commonsense approach to keeping children and communities safe,” Zyburt said in a statement. “These bills will ensure those that do not qualify to purchase guns, don’t.”

Added former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, herself a victim of gun violence: “This is a great day for Michiganders. The gun safety bills signed into law today will undoubtedly save lives and make the state of Michigan a safer place to live. No one should have to go about their lives and fear gun violence.”

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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