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State Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) can’t stop hurting.
In the wake of Tuesday’s shooting at Oxford High School in Southeast Michigan that killed four students and wounded seven others, Bayer, whose district includes Oxford, has spoken to countless of her constituents who are now wading through a sea of grief and trauma.
One constituent, who’s also a friend, told Bayer that her child in middle school, which was locked down Tuesday because of the shooting at the high school, texted her mother.
“She said, ‘Mommy, I’m scared; come and get me,’” Bayer said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m in physical pain; I’ve been in physical pain thinking about this. What if you got a text that said, ‘Mommy, I’m scared; come get me?’ What if you lost your daughter?”
As the Oxford community reels from the shooting that took the lives of Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17, Bayer knows the village where she once lived, a place surrounded by lakes about 40 miles north of Detroit, is going to need a lot of support in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.
“We have a whole town that needs help,” Bayer said. “Every school was locked down. All those kids were exposed to that trauma; all those parents were exposed to that trauma. The whole community was exposed to that trauma.”
Mental health supports have been flooding into the community — sites connecting people to resources have been established throughout the area — and that is crucial, Bayer said. But, she said, it’s not all that is needed. Bayer and other state lawmakers, mostly Democrats but a couple Republicans as well, have sponsored a flurry of legislation this year around curbing gun violence, but those bills have gone nowhere.
Now, in the wake of a 15-year-old boy killing four of his classmates and wounding seven others with a handgun his father allegedly purchased on Black Friday, according to Oakland County police, legislators are pushing for movement around these bills.
“No parent should have to fear for their child’s safety; no community should have to bury the children they helped raise,” Bayer said at a Thursday press conference. “We must do more to prevent these shootings from happening. We’ve met resistance to taking proactive measures to prevent gun violence in the past, but we must take action this time. The students that died at Oxford … deserve more from us.”
Legislation around gun violence includes Senate Bills 550-553 and House Bills 5066-5069, which would require gun owners to store firearms that could be accessed by minors in a locked box or other secure location. Sponsors of these bills include state Sens. Bayer, Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), and Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), and state Reps. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.), and Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham).
“This is a common-sense bill, and it could save countless lives,” Bayer said. “It could have even prevented [the Oxford shooting] from happening. And, no, we haven’t even had a hearing on it yet.”
Democratic lawmakers and other gun reform advocates have long lamented the fact that gun violence legislation is often met with significant resistance from their Republican colleagues. None of this year’s proposed legislation addressing gun violence has received a hearing — including bipartisan and bicameral legislation (Senate Bills 678-679 and House Bills 5371-5372) that would prohibit individuals convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor from owning a gun or ammunition until eight years after they have paid any fines and completed their jail or probation terms. Republicans who sponsored that legislation include Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) and Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City).
“It’s very frustrating; most of those bills have been proposed multiple sessions and nothing happens,” Bayer told the Advance.
Bayer is optimistic that, following the deaths of the Oxford teenagers, there will be at least one hearing on any of the proposed legislation.
“We have to work together; we have to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” Bayer said. “None of [the proposed bills] take guns away from anyone. They make everyone safer, including for gun owners. [Republicans’] marketing of the whole issue is Democrats want to take your guns away, and that’s not the case.”
Chang said she, too, hopes Republican leaders are open to legislative hearings on the gun violence bills.
“The bills around domestic violence — this is the first time we’ve seen bicameral, bipartisan support,” Chang said. “I would hope we can get those done.”
Chang and Bayer noted that there is widespread support for gun reform across the country. According to a 2018 Gallup survey, 92% of respondents said they supported background checks for anyone purchasing a firearm.
“It’s really important to remember many of the policies that we’ve been pushing for years are extremely popular,” Chang said.
“I would encourage all of the parents, the activists, the community leaders who for years have been pushing for change continue their advocacy,” Chang added. “We know the vast majority of Michiganders and Americans are on our side and want common sense solutions. Don’t give up hope; let this moment further resolve ourselves towards the action we need.
While state Republicans issued a number of statements offering “thoughts and prayers” for the victims of Tuesday’s shooting at Oxford High School, they have not pushed for legislation to address gun violence. When asked how “we move beyond thoughts and prayers,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) told reporters Wednesday that “there’s a time and season for everything” and the focus should be on supporting families in Oxford.
“There will be plenty of time for us to … talk about whether there’s any other actions,” Shirkey said.
The majority leader went on to say that, “We could, I suppose, spend a lot of our time focusing on eliminating every risk that we have, because there’s a lot of them. But if we get obsessed with eliminating all risks, we will then develop and evolve into a country we won’t recognize because we’ll also have no freedom. It’s a balance.”
We have a whole town that needs help. Every school was locked down. All those kids were exposed to that trauma; all those parents were exposed to that trauma. The whole community was exposed to that trauma.
– State Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills)
A spokesperson for Shirkey did not respond to a request for further comment, nor did House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare).
Other legislation proposed this year includes Senate Bills 454-456 and House Bills 4869-4871, which would mandate universal background checks for anyone who wants to purchase a firearm. Sponsors of those bills are all Democrats: Sens. Bayer, Chang, Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), and Reps. Brabec, Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) and Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park).
“This is a serious thing; most states do background checks and we do almost nothing,” Bayer said.
Carter, who has sponsored a number of gun violence bills this year, also criticized her Republican colleagues for not providing hearings for the legislation.
“My Democratic colleagues and I have introduced common-sense legislation and solutions to curb gun violence and keep our communities safe, but none have even received a hearing,” Carter said in a statement to the Advance. “Legislators can no longer sit on the sideline and act as if there is nothing we can do to curb this senseless violence in our schools, neighborhoods, playgrounds and state.
“We must come together, not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Michiganders concerned about the safety of our children to ensure this tragedy never happens again,” Carter continued. “Expanding universal background checks and requiring gun owners to restore guns responsibly is legislation we should all be able to rally around to put the safety of our students and communities first.”
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