Michigan Republicans introduce legislation allowing guns in college campuses 

By: - July 16, 2023 3:30 am

On the morning of Feb. 15, 2023, students repainted The Rock at Michigan State University with a memorial to students lost in the mass shooting after a pro-gun message had been painted overnight. | Susan J, Demas

As state Democratic lawmakers focus their next round of gun legislation around domestic violence and suicide prevention, Republican legislators have introduced bills that would increase access to firearms and address privacy concerns with gun sales. 

In a press release issued this month, state Rep. Gina Johnsen (R-Lake Odessa) urged lawmakers to support two of her bills “standing up for the rights of lawful gun owners in Michigan.”

In June, Johnsen introduced House Bill 4831, which would create the “Second Amendment Financial Privacy Act.” That act would “prohibit banks and credit card companies from requiring Michigan retailers to use specialized codes to flag firearms purchases.”

Rep. Gina Johnsen | Laina G. Stebbins photo

Johnsen told the Advance on Monday that she’s hoping to enlist Democratic support for this legislation, which so far has solely Republican co-sponsors and has remained in the Insurance and Financial Services Committee. Essentially, Johnsen said she wants the legislation to ensure that banks and credit card companies can’t share information about an individual’s firearm purchase in a way that would allow government agencies, like the Internal Revenue Services (IRS), to access it and politically target someone.

“This is seen as a Second Amendment issue, to protect gun owners who purchase guns and not have them flagged as being dangerous. 

“What someone purchases should not be somebody else’s business,” Johnsen continued. “We want to protect privacy.”

House Bill 4285, which Johnsen introduced in March and remains in the Government Operations Committee, would allow people who have concealed pistol licenses to carry firearms on college and university campuses in Michigan. 

That bill, which Johnsen refers to as “college carry,” was largely modeled after similar legislation signed into law in West Virginia earlier this year and was introduced not long after a mass shooting at Michigan State University killed three students on Feb. 13.

“It’s just devastating to think we have anywhere in our culture where people are just sitting ducks and they can’t run away fast enough,” Johnsen said.

“It’s not logical; it doesn’t help safety; it’s not right,” Johnsen continued, referring to individuals not being able to carry firearms on campuses. “I know this tends to fall on partisan lines, but if we all want safety … we have to look at what brings safety.”

For Johnsen, that means more guns, more access to mental health resources and more security officers at schools. Republicans state- and nationwide have largely focused on the same, though researchers with no political affiliation have refuted that those initiatives would drive down gun violence rates more than reducing the number of guns.

In a country where there are more firearms than people and where gun violence has been the leading cause of death for children since 2020, researchers have said it’s access to guns that is the leading factor in the number of firearm-related deaths. 

You can compare internationally to look at rates of gun violence, and you do see a correlation between countries that have the highest rates of gun violence tend to be the countries that have the highest rates of gun ownership,” James Densley, the co-founder of The Violence Projectsaid during an online presentation in May. The Violence Project is a nonprofit that studies gun violence and maintains a database of mass shootings dating to 1966. 

There have so far been 374 mass shootings in the United States in 2023, including the one on Feb. 13 that killed MSU students Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner. Another mass shooting on Nov. 30, 2021 killed four students at Oxford High School: Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling and Hana St. Juliana.

Other research backs up Denley’s statement and notes that limiting guns has led to a decrease in firearm-related deaths.

A 2019 study in Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, for example, found there was a 70% reduction in mass shootings during the United States’ ban on assault weapons from 1994 to 2004. Federal lawmakers allowed that ban to sunset in 2004.

A study published in 2022 from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the average rate of assaults with firearms increased in states that relaxed concealed carry permit restrictions.

Michigan State University students and members of surrounding communities pay their respects for victims of the mass shooting on MSU’s campus at the Spartan Statue on Feb. 14, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

“In general, violent crime increased after states loosened concealed carry permitting requirements,” Mitchel Doucette, an assistant scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management and director of research methods at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Bloomberg School, said in a 2022 press release. “Allowing more individuals to carry concealed guns in public – including some who would have previously been denied carry permits due to prior arrests or restraining orders – can increase inappropriate use of firearms in response to interpersonal conflicts, disputes, or other situations.”

Johnsen and other Michigan Republicans disagree. In April, a group of state Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would make it easier to carry a firearm without a permit in Michigan. Senate Bills 308313, all of which remain in committee, would repeal sections of state law that currently make it a felony to carry a concealed firearm without a concealed pistol license and a misdemeanor for people with the concealed pistol licenses to possess guns in places like churches and hospitals.

“Danger can strike at any moment,” Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) said in a prepared statement issued in April. “Now, more than ever, it is essential that law-abiding citizens be prepared to protect themselves and their families.”

Johnsen said narratives around guns are riddled with “misinformation” and often leave out what she considers to be driving factors of violence, including increased issues with mental health and a general devaluing of other people.

“We’re suffering from a lack of respect for humanity,” Johnsen said. “When we don’t respect all humanity – young and old, born and unborn, the great athletes or the person who’s physically or mentally challenged – violence tends to increase.”

Johnsen went on to ask, “Is the real problem a gun?”

“If you set 10 guns out in your house, do they kill people?” she said. “The gun itself, the knife itself, the rope itself, the pharmaceutical itself, do they hurt anyone by themselves? No. You put them in the hands of a person who has a decision to make. Do we admit there’s good and evil?”

Johnsen questioned if there are “hidden agendas” with regards to narratives around guns and gun violence.

“Or is it just gross misinformation?” she continued. “We’ve got to ask the hard questions. It doesn’t make people in one party or another evil, but they’ve been victimized by misinformation.”

Sen. Rosemary Bayer speaks at a press conference demanding gun control legislation on Feb. 20, 2023, one week after a mass shooting on the campus of Michigan State University. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

State Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), the former chair of the bicameral Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus, said she knows of Republicans in the Michigan Legislature who, in theory, supported the gun safety legislation passed by Democrats earlier this year – which received overwhelming support among the general public in various polling and similar versions of which have been passed by Republican-led legislatures in other states – but wouldn’t vote for it.

That legislation, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed into law, requires universal background checks for all firearms, mandates the safe storage of guns in homes with children, and permits a court to temporarily remove a firearm from someone at risk of harming themselves or others. 

“They’re pretty paranoid about it, even the ones who support this stuff; they have a fear the crazies in their district will come after them,” Bayer said of Republican lawmakers supporting gun safety legislation. “Even if it’s a minority, it’s a loud bunch of people. I’m worried that may be the driver for them.”

Johnsen said she’s doubtful the college carry legislation – which has solely Republican co-sponsorship – will be passed by a Democratic-led Legislature, and some of her colleagues on the other side of the aisle agreed. 

Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) “has not heard from MSU students or other university students and staff that more guns are the answer to combatting violence on campus,” Tate spokesperson Amber McCann wrote to the Advance on Monday. “The speaker is focused on common sense solutions that help keep people safe and looks forward to working with his colleagues on additional policy ideas.”

Bayer said she would not “help anybody pass laws that add guns.

“We have a grotesque number of guns out there,” Bayer said. “The data shows a direct correlation between the number of guns and the number of gun incidents.”

Ryan Bates, an organizer with End Gun Violence Michigan, opposes Johnsen’s legislation.

“The solution to gun deaths is not more guns,” he said. “The solution to gun violence is common sense gun safety laws.

Next round of Michigan gun safety legislation to focus on domestic violence, suicide prevention

“Can you imagine if there were a bunch of students running around with guns as the chaos was unfolding at MSU during the shooting?” Bates continued. “The police didn’t know where the shooter was; there were random reports all over the place. So the idea of having more people running around with guns who are not law enforcement is going to make it much harder for police to do their job and figure out who the bad guy is.”

As Republicans focus their efforts around access to guns and privacy concerns, Democratic lawmakers told the Advance this week that their plans for gun safety legislation include bills that would keep firearms out of the hands of abusers and allow people at risk of suicide to place themselves on a registry barring them from purchasing firearms.

Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Rep. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw) plan to introduce legislation that would ban people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from possessing firearms until a now-unspecified number of years after they completed their jail or probation terms and paid any related fines.

Legislation currently being worked on by Bayer would allow individuals at risk of suicide to place themselves on a list that would ensure they would be temporarily unable to purchase a firearm in Michigan.


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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is a former assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats included 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.