Democrats in the state Legislature are working on more legislation this year to help curb gun violence across Michigan—including a new crackdown on ‘ghost guns.’
MICHIGAN—This month marks one year since a shooting at Michigan State University left three students dead and five others injured—a tragedy that rattled Michigan far beyond East Lansing and has since spurred state lawmakers to take immediate action to enact new gun safety laws.
But for state Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) and other Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives, there’s still more work to be done to protect Michiganders from violence.
In a recent interview with The ‘Gander, Breen outlined what she described as a “big package” of gun safety legislation that she expects to see introduced sometime before the end of the month.
“The way legislation is being crafted is we are learning from these horrible atrocities … learning from the mistakes that have happened elsewhere” Breen said. “All we can do is take these lessons, think about what we can be doing better to avoid these atrocities, and make that as effective as we can. There will inevitably be some bumps along the way, but I’m willing to learn.”
Breen outlined several specific bills that are set to be introduced in the “next couple weeks”—including state legislation to regulate 3D-printed guns, also known as “ghost guns;” create a new system that notifies law enforcement when someone fails a background check; and close loopholes in state law that have enabled felons to purchase and possess firearms.
“I’m optimistic that this legislation that we are crafting, and that we’ve already passed, will make a dent in gun violence, and not just gun violence—but violence overall,” Breen told The ‘Gander.
Here’s what we know about the forthcoming legislation:
Ghost Gun Regulation
Breen said state lawmakers are exploring legislation that could require every firearm in Michigan to have a serial number—including 3D-printed guns and so-called “ghost guns,” a term for unserialized and untraceable firearms that can be bought online and assembled at home.
Currently, there are no specific state (or federal) laws on who can buy (or 3D print their own) guns or parts. Background checks aren’t required for those who buy them either. And Breen said that lack of regulation has created a dangerous loophole that could (and has) cost lives.
“When it comes to 3D printing of weapons, that’s not something that is physically possible [to regulate] at the state level [because] you’re trying to regulate the internet,” Breen said. “One of the approaches has to do with making sure that every firearm is serialized, and how do we do that? That means people might have to take firearms to a gunsmith and have it serialized.”
In 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration proposed a rule to clarify that all homemade guns and parts must be sold with serial numbers and background checks. And after a protracted legal battle, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling to uphold those federal regulations last August.
The new rules modernized the definition of a firearm and made clear that all readily convertible parts kits—or “frames” or “receivers” of weapons—face the same regulations as other firearms.
But despite the new federal rules, Michigan still doesn’t have any specific ghost gun laws of its own. Breen said it’s up to lawmakers to update the books to align with federal regulations, as well as ensure local law enforcement and prosecutors have the tools needed to enforce them.
That could include enacting laws that require serial numbers and background checks for component parts, as well as mandating that all ghost guns be reported to law enforcement. Legislatures in other states have also passed laws to ban plastic or 3D-printed guns altogether.
“There are efforts being made,” Breen told The ‘Gander. “We don’t have a final solution [for ghost gun regulation], but I can tell you there are definitely multiple solutions being looked at.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also spoke out about the need for additional state regulations on ghost guns at the virtual Michigan Gun Violence Prevention Summit this week, where she noted that 3D-printed guns were still finding their way onto the streets in Michigan.
Background Check Reporting
A new state law taking effect this month will require all Michiganders to obtain a license before they can purchase a rifle or long gun. That mirrors the laws that’s already in place for pistols, and means that background checks will soon be required for all gun purchases in Michigan.
Breen said state lawmakers are working on legislation that would allow those background checks to serve a more proactive role in preventing gun violence—namely by requiring anyone who sells a gun to notify law enforcement when a potential customer fails a background check.
“We want to make sure that if a person who is already prohibited [from buying or possessing a gun] attempts to purchase [a gun], that they have to immediately notify local law enforcement so that they can track that down—because that’s obviously an issue,” Breen told The ‘Gander.
The background check requirements taking effect this month are designed to ensure that those buying guns don’t have criminal records, or are otherwise ineligible to possess a firearm. But notifying cops when bad actors try to get their hands on guns can help save lives, Breen said.
“We just want to make sure that within 24 hours, law enforcement is notified,” Breen said. “If somebody is not supposed to have a firearm and they’re actively seeking one, that’s a red flag.”
Polls show that nearly 8 in 10 Michigan voters supported the legislation to enact universal background checks before it was passed. At least 12 other states have enacted laws to notify law enforcement when someone fails a background check while attempting to purchase a gun.
Closing Legal Loopholes
Part of the legislature’s plans for this year are designed to ensure Michigan cops and prosecutors have the legal tools they need to enforce certain federal firearm regulations.
Under federal law, certain categories of people—like convicted felons, people with a dangerous mental illness, and domestic abusers—are prohibited from buying or possessing guns. And while federal law applies in every state, not every state has similar provisions in their own laws.
“I’ve heard from prosecutors and sheriffs who say they don’t have the authority to pursue these charges at the state level,” Breen said. “There’s definitely some kinks that we need to work out.”
Breen said she wants to introduce legislation that would extend state law to match federal regulations on firearm possession, which would allow Michigan prosecutors to levy state-level charges against those who illegally possess, purchase, or attempt to purchase firearms.
“This is just to make sure the laws that we have are enforced,” Breen said. “This is how we have to do it sometimes, because sometimes the laws we have are as effective as Swiss cheese.”
Curbing Domestic Violence
Legislation that aims to strengthen protections for survivors of domestic violence is also set to take effect this month after being signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.
The new law will bar anyone convicted of domestic violence from buying, owning, or transporting a gun for a period of eight years after their sentence. It’s an expansion to the current law, which only bars those convicted of felonies from possessing or buying a gun.
And this year, curbing domestic violence is still in focus at the state Legislature.
While technically not a regulation on firearms, Nessel is reportedly working with lawmakers on another bill that would require anyone arrested on suspicion of domestic violence to be held in police custody for at least 24 hours—like a cooling-off period—to prevent reactionary violence.
“This is safer for police officers, as well, in order to go in and confiscate guns after a domestic violence crime,” Nessel said at a gun violence prevention summit this week. “Whatever we can do to make that transition smoother for survivors and law enforcement can and should be done.”
Federal statistics show there were 341 domestic violence deaths in Michigan between 2003 and 2012. Of those, more than half of the victims were killed with guns. And while state data shows a decrease in the number of domestic violence victims from 2010 to 2022, fatalities reportedly climbed during that same period—from 89 deaths in 2010 to 101 in 2022. Research also shows access to a gun makes it five times more likely that an abusive person will kill their partner.
Instituting a 24-hour waiting period would allow survivors of domestic violence time to plan and give them an opportunity to file an emergency risk protection order, Nessel said this week.
Building on Progress
The gun safety legislation set to be introduced this year will build on a package of bills that were signed last year by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, including new laws designed to ensure guns are kept out of the hands of children and add required background checks for all firearm purchases.
Those new gun safety laws (and more) will officially take effect on Feb. 13—which is the same day as the one-year anniversary of the deadly mass shooting at Michigan State University.
“I’d say we haven’t been moving quickly enough,” Breen told The ‘Gander last week. “My motivation is to try to keep our kids and our families and educators as safe as possible.”
The state House of Representatives is currently stuck in a partisan, 54-54 deadlock until special elections can be held in April to fill two legislative vacancies. Republican state lawmakers have opposed previous gun safety bills. Still, Breen said she’s optimistic about securing bipartisan support as the legislation is introduced later this month.
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