Upton says background checks and anonymous reporting can curb gun violence after Oxford

By: - December 9, 2021 8:14 am

People attend a vigil downtown to honor those killed and wounded during the recent shooting at Oxford High School on December 03, 2021 in Oxford, Michigan. Four students were killed and seven others injured on November 30, when student Ethan Crumbley allegedly opened fire with a pistol at the school. Crumbley has been charged in the shooting. Today his parents were also charged. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

The day before 17 people died in a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) was visiting Portage Central High School while it held a live shooter drill.

“That never happened when I was a student,” Upton said during a phone interview with the Advance Monday afternoon. “It was pretty scary to a parent like me.”

The next day — Feb. 14, 2018 — a 19-year-old used an AR-15 rifle to shoot and kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The following week, Upton returned to Portage Central, located in Southwest Michigan, with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) to meet with students, the sheriff, community leaders, and school board members to discuss school safety. 

Those conversations, and the deep fear Upton heard from students and others, immediately surfaced after Upton learned of the fatal shooting at Oxford High School on Nov. 30. Oakland County prosecutors say 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly used a semi-automatic shotgun to shoot and kill four students and wound seven other people. The students killed were: Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17.

“It’s a frightening nightmare,” Upton said in Monday’s interview. “No parent wants to think their son or daughter is off to school and is not going to come back home. No child wants to be confronted by a gun held by an individual who needs help.” 

Sheena Billups prepares to lay flowers in a memorial setup at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for those killed during a mass shooting on February 14, 2019 in Parkland, Florida. | Joe Raedle, Getty Images

To better prevent mass shootings, Upton noted he was one of eight Republicans in both 2018 and this year to vote for the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. The congressman, who represents the 6th District that includes Kalamazoo and much of Southwest Michigan, was also one of five Republicans to co-sponsor the legislation that would close loopholes in the background check system and require Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background checks for nearly all gun sales.

“We passed that in the House again, but the Senate hasn’t acted on it,” said Upton.

“People without a criminal record have nothing to fear,” the congressman continued, referring to the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. “If you have that criminal record, whether it’s assaults or domestic abuse, you lose your right to purchase a firearm.”

The act’s supporters, including all of Michigan’s Democratic House members and Upton, are pushing the Senate to vote on the background legislation.

“Long before the events in Oxford, the U.S. House passed a bill requiring basic background checks for all purchases of any and all guns, just like we do at Walmart now,” U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), whose district includes Oxford, said on the U.S. House floor last week. “This bill had both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. It was one of those rare instances of this body rising to the occasion with some basic common sense…That bill is currently sitting in the U.S. Senate. It could be voted on tomorrow if there was a will to act. So, please, to our colleagues in the Senate: Take up this important bipartisan legislation.”

As has been the case for other legislation, including the recently passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, Upton was the only Michigan Republican to support the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. 

While there is bipartisan agreement on some gun policies, such as background checks, preventing individuals with mental illnesses from purchasing guns, and not allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit, Republicans have been far more resistant to gun control than Democrats. Republicans are more likely to be gun owners (Upton noted he is not a gun owner) and generally do not see gun violence as a major problem — 18% of Republicans see it as a major problem, compared to 73% of Democrats — according to the Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan think tank. 

Fred Upton
U.S.. Rep. Fred Upton | Andrew Roth

And while Upton said during Monday’s interview that he wants to “underscore I support the Second Amendment,” he is, unlike the majority of his Republican colleagues, supportive of some gun control legislation. 

In addition to the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, Upton backs what’s known as “red flag” legislation, which allows law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from someone who may be a danger to themselves or others. In 2019, Upton introduced the Jake Laird Act of 2019 with Dingell and Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.). The bill was never voted on; it would have provided grants to encourage states to adopt red flag laws.

In the wake of Oxford, Upton said there needs to be strong anonymous reporting systems to allow students, parents and school officials, among others, to report potential threats of school violence. 

“A background check in this case probably would not have prevented this because the dad did not have a criminal background and was clear to purchase the semi-automatic pistol with a number of rounds,” Upton said. “But in this particular case it appears as though folks were aware this was a troubled youngster who posted real threats on social media, and somehow those were never passed on to law enforcement, which was a huge mistake.”

According to police, Ethan Crumbley’s father, James Crumbley, purchased on Black Friday the hand gun allegedly used by his son to shoot his fellow students that following Tuesday. James and Jennifer Crumbley, Ethan Crumbley’s parents, were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter Friday.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said last week that on the day of the shooting a teacher witnessed a drawing by Ethan Crumbley that included the words, “the thoughts won’t stop, help me,” a drawing of a bullet, and the phrase “blood everywhere.” McDonald said the 15-year-old’s parents were summoned to the school in response to the drawing but refused to take him home with them.

It’s a frightening nightmare. No parent wants to think their son or daughter is off to school and is not going to come back home. No child wants to be confronted by a gun held by an individual who needs help.

– U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph)

Upton noted that a similar attack was likely prevented at Paw Paw High School in 2018 because the sheriff received an anonymous tip from the public.

“Thank goodness the Van Buren Sheriff’s Department was able to get the information in advance of what would’ve been another Oxford for sure in Paw Paw,” Upton said.

In the Paw Paw case, a 15-year-old was arrested after police found him with guns and bomb-making materials in his backpack; police said he had planned to attack his school. That same individual, Aidan Ingalls, shot and killed 73-year-old Charles Skuza before killing himself on a South Haven pier earlier this year, police said.

In the wake of Oxford’s shooting, gun reform advocates have emphasized that more guns should not be brought into schools — something state Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers) said he wants. Last week, Carra, who announced in March that he plans to primary Upton and has since landed an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, said he’s drafting legislation that would permit schools to keep lockboxes for school staff to secure their personal firearms in case of an attack.

Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a national organization advocating for gun reform, said during a press conference last Thursday that schools should not be home to guns.

“The last thing we should do is add more guns into our schools,” Watts said. “It’s a terrible idea that puts our children into even more danger.”

Upton’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Carra’s proposal, but he did say after the Parkland shooting that he opposes arming teachers.

“I do not join those who think schools would be safer by arming teachers for a whole host of reasons,” Upton said in 2018.

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country. She began her journalism career reporting on state politics in Wisconsin and has gone on to cover government, racial justice and immigration reform in New York City, education in Connecticut, the environment in Wyoming, and more. Previously, Anna lived in Argentina and Morocco, and, when she’s not working, she’s often trying to perfect the empanada and couscous recipes she fell in love with in these countries. You’ll likely also find her working on her century-old home in downtown Lansing, writing that ever-elusive novel and hiking throughout Michigan.

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