New Democratic Majority in Michigan Seeks Sweeping Changes to State Gun Laws

No major gun control legislation has passed in Michigan in decades.

AP/Brittainy Newman, file
A handgun for sale at a dealer at Hempstead, New York. AP/Brittainy Newman, file

Emboldened by Democratic victories last year in Michigan, state lawmakers are pushing to pass the most restrictive gun laws in its history. At least 11 bills rewriting gun policy have been introduced in the state legislature, though slim majorities in both chambers and energized gun rights advocates threaten their passage. 

The proposals — which were introduced last week — are focused on three issues: safe storage of firearms, enhanced background checks, and establishing so-called red flag laws that would allow the government to temporarily take possession of a person’s firearms if they were deemed a threat to themselves or others.

The introduction of the bills comes just two weeks after a shooting at Michigan State University killed three and injured five others. On February 15, hundreds of protesters — mostly MSU students — went to the Michigan capitol to demand stricter gun laws. One MSU student who spoke, Emma Riddle, also survived the 2021 shooting at Oxford High School. 

In a statement announcing the introduction of the gun control package, Democratic state legislators said their goal is to “prevent acts of violence like the shooting that took place … at Michigan State University.”

“This is not a political issue; it is a public health emergency. The majority of Michiganders support common-sense gun reforms and it is our duty to advance reasonable policy changes that align with the priorities of our constituents,” the Michigan house speaker, Joe Tate, wrote.

The state senator who is the lead sponsor of the legislation, Rosemary Bayer, said the measures “are all proven effective in reducing gun violence in other states. With this one set of bills, we will have a profound effect in preventing future tragedies and bloodshed.”

A spokesman for the National Association for Gun Rights, Chris Stone, told the Sun that his organization is preparing to fight the proposals. 

“First and foremost, they’re unconstitutional — especially the red flag law, which violates your civil liberties, not just your Second Amendment rights,” Mr. Stone said. He said the group’s affiliate in Michigan — Great Lakes Gun Rights — is “spending a lot of time mobilizing members to lobby the legislature.” 

The executive director of Great Lakes Gun Rights, Brenden Boudreau, told the radio station WKAR that his group is prepared to challenge any legislator who votes for this bill. “If they think they’re going to be able to quietly pass these bills, without repercussions, I think they’re fooling themselves,” Mr. Boudreau said. 

He added that his members would try to recall any state representative or senator who supports the legislation. Michigan law allows citizens to submit a petition to hold a recall election for all elected officials except judicial officers. 

Getting the legislation to Governor Whitmer’s desk will be an arduous task. Democrats barely hold majorities in the state legislature’s two chambers — the senate is divided 20 to 18, and the house is split 56 to 54, meaning Democrats can only afford to lose one vote in either chamber. 

Mr. Boudreau added that such a recall petition is especially potent considering the slim Democratic majorities. “All it would take is for a single Democrat state lawmaker who voted for these gun control measures to face a recall to potentially lose their election to change the calculus in the Michigan house of representatives,” he said. 

Gun rights advocates in Michigan have been concerned about a moment such as this for years. Beginning in 2020, gun owners began organizing at the county level to institute what they call “sanctuary” laws, which would instruct the sheriff and sheriffs’ deputies to disregard firearms restrictions they believe to be in violation of the Second Amendment. In less than three years, 50 of Michigan’s 83 counties have adopted sanctuary resolutions. 

Michigan’s push for new gun measures, as well as the county sanctuary movement, follow a landmark Supreme Court decision from last year that has led to confusion about what states can and cannot regulate with regard to the Second Amendment. 

The case, New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen, struck down a number of gun regulations in New York state. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that when defending such gun control measures, “the government must affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition … of the right to keep and bear arms.” 

Since then, states have been experimenting with what is and is not permissible under the standard, only to have most of the new regulations end up in federal court. New York and New Jersey are being sued for instituting measures similar to those deemed unconstitutional in Bruen. Florida is on the verge of adopting permitless or “constitutional” concealed carry for all residents. 

Last month, Illinois instituted a ban on so-called assault weapons, only to see the law quickly be put on hold by a federal court. Like in Michigan, dozens of counties in Illinois have pledged to ignore the ban should the courts uphold the law. 

According to a poll conducted before last year’s election, Michiganders approve of these measures by large majorities. The background check provision polls at 90 percent approval, while 82 percent approve of safer storage requirements and 73 percent approve of the red flag law. Even a majority of Michigan gun owners who were polled say they support the measures. 

No major gun control legislation has passed in Michigan in decades. Democrats have not had full control of state government since the 1980s.

The New York Sun

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