Michigan Home Guard militia members at the Second Amendment March at the Capitol, Sept. 17, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins
A group of gun safety advocates launched an “exploratory committee” this week to examine the possibility of a 2024 ballot initiative to pass some form of gun safety legislation if the Michigan Legislature fails to act on the issue themselves.
The organization said it will first encourage the GOP-led Legislature to take action on reforms such as universal background checks, safe storage measures, red flag laws, and prohibitions on guns at government buildings like the state Capitol.
“If the Legislature fails to act, it may be time to start a ballot initiative,” the group said in a press release on Monday. “The group formed out of a shared sense of anger and frustration after years of inaction and countless avoidable gun deaths. Though stirred to action by the recent school shooting in Oxford, gun violence has been a daily problem in communities in Michigan for years, especially cities like Detroit.”
Kiley Myrand, a student at Oxford High School, shared her experience during the Nov. 30 school shooting during the press conference announcing the group.
Myrand discussed the heartbreak of not getting a text back when she asked her friend Tate Myre if he was safe. Myre is one of the four individuals killed during the shooting.
“No one my age should experience losing a friend, especially losing a friend in this way. No one my age, younger or older, should experience having lost a loved one this way,” Myrand said.
Organizations included on the group’s steering committee include March for our Lives – Michigan, the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Michigan United, the Charles W. Reid Community Center, Oakland Forward, Church of the Messiah, Interfaith Action of Southwest Michigan, and the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit.
“These measures are popular, even among gun owners. We can pass sensible reforms that will save lives and respect gun owners’ rights,” said Charles W. Reid Community Help Center CEO Mia Reid. “It’s just common sense. Children shouldn’t be able to access dangerous firearms. Most gun owners understand this and are responsible. We just want all gun owners to be responsible.”
Most of the measures the group is exploring have been introduced by Democrats in the Legislature, but have not gained traction as both chambers are controlled by Republicans.
Democrats recently made a renewed push for the safe storage bills, Senate Bill 550 and House Bill 5066, sponsored by state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) and state Rep. Felicia Brabee (D-Ann Arbor), respectively. They’re backed by Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.
“It remains unconscionable that our gun laws do not include commonsense safety measures. Thoughts and prayers ultimately fall short. 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.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has agreed to hold a hearing on red flag legislation that would prohibit individuals deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others from possessing firearms, as the Michigan Advance reported first in January. Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) sponsored SB 856, Michigan’s version of the red flag bills.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, a Republican who ran for governor in 2010, has previously supported the legislation.
Shirkey has not agreed to hold a vote on the legislation after the hearing, but has nevertheless faced pushback from gun advocacy groups.
Nessel told the Advance that she recently had a “friendly and cordial conversation” with Shirkey about the legislation.
“He is not open to this one. He was clear he was going to oppose it. He didn’t beat around the bush,” Nessel said.
However, Shirkey said he may be open to other school safety measures that are not gun-related, Nessel said.
Republicans have introduced some school safety measures.
Rep. Scott VanSingel (R-Grant) has sponsored HB 5701 allowing temporary door barricade devices in schools, and Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) has introduced SB 873 to waive attendance percentage requirements on days when there are threats to the school and the five days after.
House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) created a bipartisan School Safety Task Force in January that is expected to examine ways to improve security and mental health access, though it is unclear whether they will recommend any gun-related policy changes.
While Michigan is about average overall with gun violence, a report from the Center for American Progress and Progress Michigan identifies six areas where Michigan exceeds the national average: high rates of gun homicides of Black people; rising rates of gun suicides, especially among veterans; higher rates of non-fatal gun injuries compared to other states; a high rate of women killed by intimate partners with a gun; crimes committed with stolen guns; and the risk of armed extremists.
The report recommends policies like safe storage laws, red flag laws and prohibiting the carry of weapons in sensitive buildings, like the state Capitol.
Bayer said the measures Democrats are pursuing are popular with voters, including gun owners.
But many of them face an uphill battle in the Legislature. While Democrats have introduced legislation to require universal background checks for all firearm purchases, Republicans have introduced legislation that would eliminate penalties for carrying pistols without concealed weapons permits or registrations.
Even before a possible 2024 ballot initiative, Bayer said gun safety is on the ballot in 2022, as Democrats have a shot at taking control of the state Senate for the first time in decades under new district lines approved by the state’s independent redistricting commission.
“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.”
Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.
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