A memorial at Oxford High School, Dec. 3, 2021 | Allison R. Donahue
Legislation intended to address gun violence will receive a committee hearing in the GOP-led Michigan Senate following the November shooting at Oxford High School that killed four students.
State Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), whose district includes Oxford High School, told the Michigan Advance that Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) had offered to hold a committee hearing for some bills that Democrats have previously introduced, though which exact legislation will get a hearing has yet to be determined.
“Sen. Shirkey has told us we will have a hearing. I have a meeting with him to talk about which bills. Of course, we’re going to push to ask him to hold hearings on the safe storage bills, or the red flag bills,” Bayer said. “Those are both really good bill packages. Either one of them will make a definitive difference; we will see a difference in the numbers here in Michigan if we can pass either set. He didn’t promise a vote, but he did promise a hearing.”
Bayer, chair of the Bicameral Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus, said she is meeting with Shirkey next week.
Abby Mitch, a spokesperson for Shirkey, said in a statement that “we agreed almost two years ago to hold a hearing on Sen. Bayer’s red flag bill that was introduced in 2020—an offer that remains open. The bill was not reintroduced by the senator in 2021 and therefore a hearing was not scheduled.”
Bayer responded that “the red flag bill is on my desk and can be introduced in a heartbeat,” noting that Democrats would like to first attempt to get a hearing for the safe storage bills before moving onto the red flag legislation if Shirkey does not agree to hold a hearing for the safe storage package.
While Bayer noted that Shirkey did not promise a vote after the hearing, she said simply having the hearing gives Democrats an opportunity to get more visibility for the bills, and to get voters across the state to call their legislators in support of the legislation.
“Most people will look at this and say, ‘Why would you ever not want to do safe storage? Of course that makes sense.’ When you talk to responsible gun owners, ‘of course that makes sense.’ And yet, we’ve not been able to make any progress,” Bayer said.
“So here we are with the school shooting in my district, literally down the street from where I lived before I moved to this house. I have family involved in that shooting, both first responders and kids in the school. It was unbelievably painful. And then, you know, people started calling to talk about it, and we started realizing this may be one of the best opportunities we’ve ever had to raise the visibility. We need help from the outside to get these bills passed.”
Bayer is a sponsor of the main bill in the safe storage package.
Under the safe storage bills, owners of firearms that could be accessible to minors would be required to keep their guns in a securely locked box or container, in a location that a reasonable person would believe is secure, or use a locking device such a trigger lock or cable lock on the firearm.
Gun owners would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in prison or a fine of up to $500 if, as a result of a failure to securely store the firearm, a minor obtains the gun and possesses or exhibits the weapon in a public place or in the presence of another person in a reckless or threatening manner.
If a minor obtained the firearm and used it to inflict injury or death upon themselves or another person, the firearm owner who failed to securely store the weapon would be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to 5 years or a fine of up to $5,000.
Gun owners would not be responsible if a minor obtained the firearm through unlawful entry or by unlawfully taking the firearm from the owner’s premise; if the minor obtains the firearm with parental permission for the purposes of employment, ranching, farming, target practice, hunting, or instruction; or if the minor obtains the firearm while acting in self-defense or defense of another.
Bills included in the package would also give firearm owners tax breaks for purchases of devices needed to safely store their firearms.
Bayer said that in addition to potentially helping to prevent events like the Oxford school shooting, safe storage bills also lead to a reduction in the number of accidental shootings and suicides.
While the safe storage bills were introduced in June 2021, Democrats had been preparing a renewed effort to get the legislation passed in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said in the days following the shooting that Michigan’s laws make it difficult to hold gun owning parents responsible for their role when their children become shooters.
The parents of the teen, accused of killing four classmates, were booked with involuntary manslaughter. Authorities say they purchased the handgun used in the shooting days earlier.
“Michigan’s laws are woefully inadequate. We don’t have a safe storage law. You’re not legally required to store your weapon in a safe manner,” McDonald said. “We don’t have strong enough laws.”
Under the red flag bills previously introduced in the Michigan Legislature, individuals deemed to pose a “clear and present risk of harm to themselves or others” by either law enforcement or family members would be prohibited from purchasing firearms.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, who ran for governor as a Republican in 2010, has previously supported the legislation.
Bayer said that the Legislature shares some responsibility in the shooting through their inaction on the issue, noting that red flag laws or magazine capacity limits could have decreased the odds of the shooting unfolding as it did.
“As people in charge of these decisions, we are all responsible because we haven’t fixed this. We, collectively, we’re the grown ups in the room. We should be doing everything we can, everything we know that works, to make our kids safe in school,” Bayer said. “Collectively, we’re all responsible. The people that are refusing to hold hearings and vote on this and vote yes on this, yeah, kind of more responsible than me. I’d say that.”
Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement to the Advance that she would work with the Legislature to get gun safety legislation passed.
“We must act properly to address gun violence in our schools, which is why I wholeheartedly support safe storage legislation,” Nessel said. “We fail as leaders if our response to the tragedy in Oxford is more of the status quo. I will continue to work with our partners in the legislature to get this done — for our kids, for our educators and for our communities.”
Democrats have a shot at taking control of the state Senate in the 2022 midterms after new district lines approved by the state’s independent redistricting commission give them a slight edge, which Bayer said may incentivize Republican legislators to take action before then.
“Even Republicans are subject to their constituencies,” Bayer said. “We just need people to know they can speak up. Call them up, tell them you’re not going to vote for them if they don’t fix this.”
In the days after the Oxford shooting, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for “actions” beyond “thoughts and prayers,” but stopped short of naming specific policies she would support.
“I’m not interested in taking stands on issues. I’m interested in solving problems,” Whitmer said at a press conference in Flint on Thursday. “That’s why I thought it was important that we wrap our arms around the community and give them support to heal, but that we also have an honest dialogue about what it’s going to take to keep our kids safe in school. I’m a former prosecutor, public safety is part of the core of who I am and what I care about.”
Whitmer said that while she would support various legislation to address gun violence, she needs partnership from the GOP-led Legislature to successfully address the issue.
“I need the Republican-led Legislature to come to the table and have a thoughtful conversation with stakeholders about what it’s going to take,” Whitmer said. “I’ve personally long supported red flag laws, as well as safe storage laws. I think that is really important. But I didn’t want to say this is the only component to solving this problem. This is a uniquely American problem that we are grappling with. And if we are going to make a difference for our students, we have to have all parties at the table and craft what that looks like. Because me, just taking a position doesn’t get legislation to my desk, I need partnership out of the Legislature.”
Shirkey said in December that “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 freedoms.”
Bayer stressed that the bills are about keeping people safe.
“These things don’t take guns away from anybody. None of these bills do. All they’re doing is providing some level of safety,” Bayer said. “Shirkey’s idea that we’re going to lose the Michigan that we know if we enact safe storage bills is a pack of nonsense. What’s happening right now is we’re becoming afraid all the time. There’s a lot of bad things going on, and people are angry, and there’s an awful lot of guns in this country.”
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