A surrendered assault rifle magazine with bullets sits on a table during a gun buyback event on December 17, 2016 in San Francisco, California. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A little more than a week after four teenagers died in a shooting at Oxford High School, a group of Michigan Democrats on Thursday introduced four bills that lawmakers say could help save lives by decreasing the amount of ammunition someone can shoot before reloading.
The legislation — Senate Bills 785 and 786 and House Bills 5627 and 5628 — would prohibit the sale or possession of a magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, members of the Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus announced Thursday.
A magazine is where ammunition for a firearm is stored; high-capacity magazines allow ammunition to be fed into a firearm that can repeatedly shoot before having to be reloaded.
“We all have a role to play when tragedy strikes and, as legislators, it’s our duty to strengthen public safety, and today we’re simply asking that the majority party of both chambers have a change of heart and give these bills a committee hearing,” state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) said in a press release. “We are not taking away anyone’s guns. We are simply asking responsible gun owners to please speak up, call your legislators, and tell them that you support responsible gun ownership.”
Bayer, whose district includes Oxford, chairs the Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus alongside state Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac).
Senate Bills 785 and 786 were introduced by Bayer and Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), respectively. House Bills 5627 and 5628 were introduced by Reps. Carter and Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit), respectively. If passed, the legislation would prohibit the sale and possession of the high-capacity magazines beginning Jan. 1, 2023. Someone who already owned these kinds of magazines before that date would be allowed to keep them if they reported the possession to their local law enforcement agency. Law enforcement, members of the armed forces and individuals working in an armored car would be exempted from the law.
Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old Oxford High School student who police say killed four classmates and wounded seven other people on Nov. 30, brought a 9MM Sig Sauer pistol and three 15-round magazines with him to school the day of the shooting, according to prosecutors. The four students killed were: Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17.
While police responded to the first 911 call about the Oxford shooting within a matter of minutes, officials said the 15-year-old had fired more than 30 shots by that time.
Crumbley’s father, James Crumbley, allegedly bought the gun and ammunition just days before the shooting, prosecutors said. James Crumbley and his wife, Jennifer Crumbley, have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Currently in Michigan, semi-automatic firearms with high-capacity magazines can be purchased without any background check — another issue state Democratic lawmakers tackled in legislation they proposed this year. Republican leadership have not allowed those bills to move forward by holding hearings on them.
Hearings have also not been held on a number of other bills that lawmakers — mostly Democrats, but a couple Republicans, as well — are sponsoring this year in an effort to curb gun violence. These bills would require safe gun storage, keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and prohibit guns from the state Capitol and other legislative office buildings.
We have seen time and again that large-capacity magazines have only one purpose in civilian life: to maximize the number of rounds that a firearm can discharge in as little time as possible.
– Brady President Kris Brown
“For years now, we have stood up at press conferences after proactively introducing legislation that might help stem the growing tide of gun violence that continues to impact our families and communities,” Carter said in a press release. “Sadly, the recent tragedy at Oxford High School is another reminder of an epidemic that isn’t going to change until we do something about it. We cannot wait any longer. We must come together and work to pass commonsense gun legislation so that no one else has to experience the pain of burying a child lost to gun violence.”
National advocates working to curb gun violence backed the Michigan Democrats’ legislation and noted that in previous mass shootings bystanders were able to intervene and stop shooters while they reloaded their magazines. One such instance was during a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona in which a gunman killed six people and wounded 13 others, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). While the shooter tried to reload his gun, bystanders were able to grab his ammunition and tackle him to the ground.
“The time it takes a shooter to reload their weapon can be critical in enabling victims to escape and law enforcement or others to intervene,” Sean Holihan, the state legislative director at the San Francisco-based Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a press release announcing the Michigan Democrats’ bills.
Kris Brown, the president of Brady, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocating for gun control, said such legislation could stop future tragedies from occurring.
“We have seen time and again that large-capacity magazines have only one purpose in civilian life: to maximize the number of rounds that a firearm can discharge in as little time as possible,” Brown said in the same press release. “This reality is why these dangerous weapons of war are used in some of the deadliest mass shootings nationwide. That they were used at the tragic shooting at Oxford High School is sadly unsurprising.”
In Michigan, firearm injuries are the second-leading cause of death in children and teens. These deaths could be prevented with “commonsense gun reform, mental health support, and risk assessment,” said Dr. Sharon Swindell, the former president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Swindell noted that public polls consistently find that the vast majority of Americans, and Michiganders, want to see lawmakers enact gun control, including universal background checks on all gun sales. According to a 2018 Gallup survey, 92% of respondents said they supported background checks for anyone purchasing a firearm.
This public support has not led to Republicans supporting a variety of gun violence bills introduced this year, or in years past.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) did not return requests for comment for this story.
When a reporter asked Shirkey last week how the state moves beyond “thoughts and prayers” for the victims of the Oxford shooting, the Senate majority leader said, “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.
He 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.”
State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) took to the Senate floor during a Dec. 2 legislative session to denounce Shirkey’s statement and general Republican inaction on gun legislation.
“For three years, I have stood up in this chamber year after year after year to introduce a resolution merely to recognize Gun Violence Awareness Month,” McMorrow said. “And year after year after year not only has this resolution not been adopted, the majority hasn’t even let us vote on it.
“Year after year after year I’ve stood up here merely to ask that we as the Michigan Senate are aware of the issue of gun violence,” McMorrow continued. “Are we aware now? Is it close enough to home? Does it even matter?”
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