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The Michigan House Oversight Committee on Thursday held a hearing to discuss two bills aiming to modify state statutes regarding gun-related activities during emergency orders, such as those made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michigan was one of five states where stores selling guns and ammunition were required to close their doors throughout the duration of stay-home orders, since they did not qualify as essential services that were exempted from closing. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies sued governors and local officials who mandated that the stores remain closed, saying the orders restricted Second Amendment rights.
House Bill 5187, introduced by state Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Adams Twp.), and House Bill 5188, introduced by Rep. Pat Outman (R-Six Lakes), would change how firearms are dealt with when a state of emergency is declared, specifically pertaining to gun use in outdoor activities like fishing or hunting. The legislation also restricts state agencies from issuing an emergency order that shuts down businesses that sell guns from operating and prevents shooting ranges from shutting down.
Outman testified that the bills “protect” Michiganders’ Second Amendment rights to gun-related activities amidst a pandemic and “provide safeguards” for fishing and hunting.
“There’s no better time for Michiganders in terms of the pandemic to be able to protect themselves and their families during a statewide emergency,” Outman said. “The governor [Gretchen Whitmer] or any future governor or health departments should not have the opportunity to decide which rights granted to us by the Constitution are valid or not valid.”
Fink said the bills codify the right to bear arms, buy and sell guns, and carry out gun-related activity throughout a pandemic.
“This is a civil right written down in our Constitution,” Fink said. “It’s written down in the Michigan Constitution. There is not another civil right that we would disfavor by saying in a pandemic, you can’t use it.”
A large point of contention in the meeting stemmed from the provision in HB 5187 that says emergency orders are not allowed to prohibit people from using guns to hunt or fish in the middle of an emergency order.
State Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) said the two-bill package would have unintended consequences by allowing fishing and hunting activities to be exempt from executive orders designed to maintain the safety of the public.
“It can definitely be in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of the great people of Michigan, to have an executive order for some circumstance that’s extreme,” Brixie said. “[The executive order] would prevent somebody from [going hunting or fishing] and your bill doesn’t doesn’t allow that. It gives an exemption for that.”
Brixie went on to argue the bill would allow people wanting to carry out gun-related activities to access areas that would otherwise be blocked off to other people under an emergency order.
“The broadness of this bill is what is absurd,” Brixie said. “It’s saying that if there is some horrible disaster, like a gas spill, or or an oil spill, this bill prevents the executive order from closing access if you’re carrying a gun.”
House Oversight Committee Chair Steve Johnson (R-Wayland) responded that hunters and anglers would have enough “common sense” to not go into areas that have been blocked off due to an emergency order.
”The likelihood of someone actually going out and doing this is incredibly rare,” Johnson said. “However, we do know that given the ability, people who have power like to use it. And so I think what it comes down to is, do you trust the people to be responsible? Or do you trust the government to be [the] responsible power? I think the whole history of America is shown no, we don’t trust government…. At the end of the day, we would say we always side with the people over government.”
Throughout the pandemic, gun sales increased dramatically across the nation. At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, 3.7 million background checks were conducted, breaking a record for number of background checks initiated since 1998 when tracking of background checks began. That monthly record was again broken in June 2020 when 3.9 million background checks were done.
In the first six months of 2020, an estimated 19 million checks were conducted, which was more than the entire year of 2012.
Many business owners also gave testimony in support of the bills.
Richard Hansen, who owns Silver Bullet firearms and Training Center in Grand Rapids, said the bills should be passed by the committee in order for his business to remain open in times of crisis to ensure people who have a firearm or are buying a firearm can receive proper training in how to handle the gun.
“I think these two bills are extremely important and that you need to give them solid consideration so that we can prohibit or help prevent people untrained with the firearms and ammunition [and] allow us to help them become responsible in a timely manner, so that they can protect themselves at times of unrest.”
The committee did not vote on the bills and is set to take them up next week.
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