After week of mass shootings, can ‘red-flag’ law gain traction in Michigan?

Guns image

'Red-flag laws' are receiving renewed attention in Michigan and across the nation following a series of mass shootings. (Shutterstock image)

State Rep. Robert Wittenberg said he has given maybe 20 media interviews since two gunmen killed more than 30 people in two American cities over the weekend, reviving sporadic debate over how to best curb gun violence.

But what he really wants, he said, is action in Lansing.

It’s been two years since Wittenberg, a Democrat from Huntington Woods, first co-sponsored “red flag” legislation in Michigan that would allow a court to order the temporary seizure of guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others. 

In February of last year, following the carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, there was some talk of the measure getting a hearing in the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature, but then… nothing.

Wittenberg is hoping the past week’s mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio have changed the political calculus surrounding new bills introduced this year. The effort got a further boost Monday when President Trump raised such legislation as a possible bipartisan solution. 

“Every time there’s mass shootings, all of a sudden, my phone’s ringing off the hook,” Wittenberg told Bridge on Monday.

He said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a fellow Democrat, had called, and he’s heard from multiple Democratic and one Republican lawmaker since the weekend.

“It’s creating more awareness, that’s for sure, but our resolve (to curb gun violence) has always been there,” Wittenberg said.

So far, there is little to indicate his renewed effort is gaining traction in Lansing. Neither Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield nor Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey have publicly said they support the legislation, although a spokeswoman for Shirkey told Bridge on Monday that Shirkey likely will discuss the concept with his Republican caucus when the Senate reconvenes this month.

Current bill packages in the House and Senate would allow a family member, law enforcement officer or someone else close to the person considered to be at risk, such as a spouse or romantic partner, to ask a court to grant an extreme risk protection order. If granted, the subject of the order would be prevented from having or buying guns for a year, and any guns in his or her possession would have to be surrendered to police or otherwise seized.

But some particulars of the legislation have drawn criticism. It would, for instance, allow a judge to order a gun seizure without first notifying the affected person in urgent, emergency situations, which has raised concerns about due process rights. In most cases, a person who is the subject of a red-flag order must be served with a notice and given a chance to appeal. Even in urgent cases, a hearing must be held within 14 days after the person is served with notice. 

The National Rifle Association has opposed similar efforts in other states, although the organization says it could support red-flag proposals if they included specific provisions to protect due process, such as criminal charges for those who file a false claim against a person, and a way for the subject of an order to get his or her firearms back once the order ends.

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have extreme risk protection order laws on the books, 12 of which allow family members and police officers to request an order, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which supports the policy. Wittenberg, who chairs a gun violence prevention caucus consisting solely of Democrats in the state House and Senate, said the California-based Giffords group was consulted in preparing Michigan’s legislation.

The Democratic-backed bills were reintroduced in February in both the House and Senate and have not received testimony in a committee hearing. Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, who leads the House judiciary committee, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesman for Chatfield, didn't return a request to comment about the speaker’s position on the legislation.

In the Senate, the bills were referred to the government operations committee, led by Shirkey, R-Clarklake. Spokeswoman Amber McCann said Monday that Shirkey has not yet discussed the bills with Senate Republicans. They’re due back in session the week of Aug. 26.

Shirkey is concerned about balancing a policy response to mass shootings with protecting individuals’ constitutional Second Amendment and due process rights, McCann told Bridge.

“In light of the tragedies over the weekend, I think it is likely to be a topic of discussion once they reconvene formally as a group at the end of the month,” she said. “Whether or not he schedules a hearing on that particular bill, it’s too early to say one way or the other.”

Democratic lawmakers who sponsored the bills are hoping support from prominent Republicans can change the tide. They pointed to support this term from Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, a Republican, who says the bills address the due process concerns of people targeted by such orders that have stymied past efforts.

“The point of this is to interrupt a potentially very deadly situation from occurring until some determination going forward is made about that person or situation,” Bouchard told Bridge on Monday.

“At the least, they should have a hearing” on the measures, Bouchard said of legislators. “If they don’t like the language, look for language that is more acceptable or more workable.”

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, and a co-sponsor of red-flag bills in the Senate, said Trump’s comments and increasing support from law enforcement could help tilt sentiment in favor of passage — or, at least, a public hearing.

Democrats say Republican legislators and others concerned about the potential consequences of the bills could use a committee hearing to offer public input and propose revisions.

Aside from mass shootings, supporters contend, the bills also could help stop people who appear at risk of committing domestic violence or suicide.

“When things become this visible, and it’s very clear even from a national perspective that it’s time to change what we’re doing, I think it’s going to be easier for them,” Bayer said of lawmakers. “This has got to be the time.”

Other criminal justice issues have netted bipartisan momentum in Michigan this term, from county jail reforms to civil asset forfeiture laws. Chatfield, a conservative Republican from Levering, and new Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel have often found themselves unlikely allies on such policies.

Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said Monday she didn’t know whether Nessel has talked to Chatfield about the red-flag bills since the weekend shootings, but added that she is “a very strong, firm yes” on the legislation.

Whitmer tweeted on Monday that she wants to sign extreme risk protection orders into law.

As a candidate for governor last year, the Democrat called the policy “another tool to law enforcement and families to prevent tragedy.”

“No single law can prevent every instance of gun violence, but this is a commonsense step,” Whitmer wrote Monday. “We can't wait idly by for an act of gun violence to devastate our state to demand action, we must act now.”

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Mon, 08/05/2019 - 7:20pm

If this current situation follows the pattern of past shootings there will be a week or so of attention and then it will quickly fade away with nothing serious being done.

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 8:18am

OK if 17 states have these laws, how effective are they? Or just something used by angry spouses to cause trouble for each other? Another case (of many) where a sunset should be included so if lacking effectiveness and no large scale support to affirmatively extend, the law expires.

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 9:50am

In this morning's Free Press, an article listed the who's what's and why's of Michigan gun laws. No license is needed to purchase a long gun (i.e. the assault weapons). You can pass legislation up the wazoo, and for every piece of legislation, there are many loopholes. Short of complete confiscation, it is next to impossible to remove guns from society, and even complete confiscation would be impossible without starting another civil war with law abiders or a complete massacre of non-law abiders. Remember Sandy Hook? The gun used was legally purchased by the shooter's mother and stolen from her by the shooter. Put the gun manufacturers out of business? Manufacturing a gun is not rocket science and many many home shops would be capable of doing so. Maybe not with the accuracy of a manufactured gun, but enough to propel a bullet out the barrel.

middle of the mit
Tue, 08/06/2019 - 11:35pm

"Short of complete confiscation, it is next to impossible to remove guns from society, and even complete confiscation would be impossible without starting another civil war with law abiders or a complete massacre of non-law abiders"

So law abiders are willing to go to war with the Government over what? Something they are literally not allowed to hunt with? I have said this before and I will say it now, if you go out into the woods where I live with your AR-15 decked out like Dana Louche likes to set her self up as on the NRA site? If a DNR or a police officer sees you, you are going to have your weapon, car and anything else you were using confiscated.

You are not allowed to have more than 5 bullets in your weapon at any time. And if your magazine or clip has the capacity for more? You need plastic plugs or spent ammo as filler for your mag or clip. And your not allowed external clips. By that I mean I used to have a .22 bolt action that had a 10 round clip that went inside the gun. I still needed to have spent ammo when I went hunting with that gun.

And for that matter, I was never let out in the woods to hunt with more than 3 arrows or bullets. If you can't hit what you are hunting for, you don't get to hunt.

Speaking of hunting, I have been present when people have had what is known up here as buck fever. That is what happens right before you are about to pull the trigger and take a deers life. Do you know how many people really lose it? I mean it. Their breathing and heart rate skyrocket! They literally lose all comprehension and they just start shooting because they know their first shot didn't hit where they wanted it to.

Get out of the city and deal with what actually happens when you have a gun in your hand and you're about to take a life. It isn't the movies, and deer aren't humans, but they are life.

Can you imagine what happens when you're being shot at by the deer you are hunting? NO! You can't! If most law abiding hunters have a problem taking the life of deer that is just eating, what do you think people would do with a human? Would they be able to extrapolate who was who and where shots were coming from?

Now we get to the non law abiders. Who is going to massacre the non law abiders? You? Other law abiders?

And what happens when former lawabiders disobey the law?

You don't need an AR-15 for anything, And you sure don't need one with a 30 round clip. It literally is illegal to hunt with. So by definition anything you do outside of target practice with one is illegal.

I am still unsure about the redflag situation, but I would prefer to err on the side of caution.

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 11:06am

MOM, they DO make 5 round magazines for any caliber you can think of or would want to hunt with, for an AR or AK. They are very functional, accurate and ergonomic and as with EVERY other firearm design (and most cartridges), started out designed expressly for a military use. Aside from interchangeable multi capacity magazines, what is the functional difference between an AR/AK and any other semi-auto deer hunting rifle? I believe if you think about it, this is a Red Herring.

middle of the mit
Thu, 08/08/2019 - 9:35pm

"They are very functional, accurate and ergonomic and as with EVERY other firearm design (and most cartridges), started out designed expressly for a military use"

"Aside from interchangeable multi capacity magazines, what is the functional difference between an AR/AK and any other semi-auto deer hunting rifle? I believe if you think about it, this is a Red Herring."

In one sentence you are telling me that those arms were designed expressly for military use, in the next you are telling me there is no difference from them and a deer hunting rifle.

Put a 30 round clip in a 30.06 and pull the trigger to your hearts delight!! Better yet bub, get a bumpstock and do it!

Would you please post the pics with your arm in a sling afterwords?

There is a reason that armaments of war are of less caliber than deer hunting rifles. I shoot a deer to kill it with one shot. NO less.

You can't do that with an AR or an AK.

They are designed to shoot bullets that you don't have any kickback with. You can't go to war with a semi or fully auto 30.06!

That is why those guns are ILLEGAL TO HUNT DEER WITH. They are ILLEGAL to hunt with unless you are hunting squirrels, chipmunks, possum, coons, fox and maybe coyotes. And the coyotes, you have to do what the bullet was designed for, hit 'em in the head, .22, .223 they go thorough bone once, then they ricochet.

Either way, you can NOT have a 30 round clip with you. It is ILLEGAL!

Justin R
Sun, 08/11/2019 - 9:14am

"You can't go to war with a semi or fully auto 30.06!"

We went to war with Germany about 80 years ago with perhaps the most famous semi-automatic .30-06 in history: the M1 Garand.

Rick Swartz
Tue, 08/06/2019 - 2:02pm

If we are serious about the kind of incidents that have occurred, then (1) we need to call them what they are, "terrorism" targeted on the civilian population of the US; (2) anyone who owns or sells assault weapons or multi-cartridge ammunition for these weapons in the civilian US is enabling this terrorism; (3) anyone who owns such weapons is a "potential terrorist", second amendment or no; and (4) we wouldn't hesitate to get busy investigating and pursuing terrorists under other conditions (eg foreign sources).

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 5:47pm

All firearms were at one point the "assault weapon" of their time. Henry lever actions were the assult weapon of the civil war. So why wouldn't we include those, other than the technology moved on. Come to think of it, there isn't anything functionally new in what you refer to as "assualt weapons".

Kathi Geukes
Wed, 08/07/2019 - 10:08am

Except for the fact the these new assault weapons can fire more shots in a matter of seconds compared to the single shot weapons that you're comparing them too....and the fact that you can't properly spell assault makes me wonder just how educated you really are....your point is moot!!! Which makes you null and void....

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 11:12am

Nope Kathi that is not true, you clearly know NOTHING about firearms. Any commonly available semi-auto deer rifle can do that. Yes my spell check somehow got turned off.

David M Dunn
Tue, 08/06/2019 - 8:20pm

The republicans do not care.

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 10:35am

As a physician, I’m in support of common-sense solutions to this public health crisis:
1-A ban on the commercial sale of assault rifles and rifle clips of over 10 bullets, and a ban on advertising these weapons online or in store flyers (eg, Cabela’s, Gander World, Dunham’s)
2-If a private seller wants to sell an assault rifle, or clips over 10 bullets, they must have a background check done on the buyer (yes, logistically difficult as they’d have to work with local law enforcement to do this)
3-Universal background checks on the sale of all firearms, including private sales
4-Research into gun violence
5-Implementation of the Red Flag law in Michigan to protect those that might harm others or might harm themselves (remember, suicide is a common use of a firearm)
These proposed solutions would be a good start.

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 12:47pm

By "assault weapons". Do you mean any semi-automatic rifle or just ones that by someone's definition look scary?
Should we also ban advertising of all alcoholic beverages, motorcycles, junk food or anything else that could be construed to cause death, great public expense or injury? No first amendment issues, let alone 2nd? Do we even care anymore?
Michigan already requires a check on every firearm sale by a FFL dealer, is this what you mean or something different?
Do you also mean semi auto handguns designed for military use?
If research shows for instance, violent individuals come predominantly single parent families, what would you do about this?
Do you know that long guns (all rifles, including semi autos) are used in approximately 1.5% of all homicides, so you're thinking this will do what?

steve sargent
Sun, 08/18/2019 - 6:37am

So as a physician, you realize your field kills and harms more people through medical malpractice than rifles.

Doug L
Wed, 08/07/2019 - 12:45pm

I would be very concerned about lack of due process in a red flag laws. It would be far too easy for an angry spouse or significant other to use a red flag law as a weapon. And how long before holding an unpopular political view is considered reason to take away a persons weapons? We are talking about taking away a person's constitutional rights. It cannot be done lightly.

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 5:37pm

You all use assault like it is actually part of the name make or model well it is not . Any thing could be labeled assault weapons a comb for instance if you use it to assault another individual would be considered a weapon of assault. There are so many things in this world that are dangerous more dangerous then any firearm humans for that matter. there are little to no repercussions for doing bad things any more lets put them in jail and feed them and educate them. That is not a punishment if someone has little or no remorse for another life do you honestly thing by incarcerating them and taking care of them that will change their mind set no it will not very very few if any. The world today is no worse then it was 100 , 200 or even 300 years ago the only thing that has changed to make it seem worse is the population has increased and the media coverage has in creased. Gun control has never worked and it never will work. People today do not understand what it truly means to have a good upbringing and education absolutely no respect and compassion history my friends will always repeat itself. If you do not educate yourself and the ones around you. And the constitution is not for the government to tamper with the government works for we the people.

Sat, 08/17/2019 - 12:18pm

I do not and will not support any type of gun control "RED FLAG" laws and I will vote against who ever supports and enacts this bill.
I do have a question however, Under what law could you confiscate someone's property only and not charge them with a crime that you could not arrest them for? If you believe someone is a danger to them self or others then you have the right to detain them up to 72 hours. Doesn't that seem more logical then taking there second amendment rights away?
Also what happens after to the individual after you take there weapons away? Seems if you find them a hazard enough to take there guns away then there should be a process to get them the help they need. Sound like you just want to take there guns only and not solve the actual problem then sent you there in the first place.

steve sargent
Sun, 08/18/2019 - 6:34am

No thanks