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Gretchen Whitmer on guns: ‘The time for only thoughts and prayers is over.’

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for a raft of gun reform legislation during Wednesday's State of the State speech. (Courtesy photo)
  • Red flag, safe storage and universal background check laws on Whitmer’s agenda
  • A former prosecutor, Whitmer lists public safety as top priority
  • House Minority Leader Matt Hall calls gun reform measures 'divisive'

LANSING — Michigan lawmakers should prioritize “commonsense” gun reform measures to curb gun violence in the state, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday night.

During her first in-person State of the State address since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan in 2020, Whitmer urged lawmakers Wednesday to tighten gun regulations — a task that has long been on the agenda for Michigan Democrats, who now lead the state Legislature with a slim majority. 


“The time for only thoughts and prayers is over,” Whitmer told the crowd Wednesday.

“And I want to be very clear—I’m not talking about law-abiding citizens,” Whitmer said. “Hunters and responsible gun owners from both sides of the aisle know that we need to get these commonsense gun safety proposals across the finish line.”

Whitmer wants:

  • Universal background checks, which would require all gun sales to go through licensed gun dealers, who must perform background checks on buyers before selling to them. 
  • Extreme risk protection orders — also known as “red flag” laws — to allow a judge to take away someone’s firearm if this person poses a danger to themselves or others. Nineteen states, and Washington, D.C., have such laws. “If Florida and Indiana can get this done, we sure can, right?” Whitmer said in her speech.
  • Safe storage laws to require gun owners to store their guns in secure locations and in a safe manner. Legislation introduced last year would make failing to do so a felony punishable by up to five years in prison if minors use a gun to kill or injury anyone, including themselves.


Those bills have been blocked by Republican leaders in recent years, but there was bipartisan support for some measures. 

Whitmer’s plea with state lawmakers comes just days after 18 people died during two back-to-back mass shootings in California, and amid an increase in reported violent crimes in Michigan.  

Murders increased 30 percent to 746 statewide in 2021, the most recent year available, according to state statistics. That year, there were nearly twice as many nonfatal shootings in Michigan, 1,420.

“There is a flood of illegal guns on our streets,” Whitmer said during the speech.

Gun reform has been a constant pledge for Democrats, but calls increased after a mass shooting in 2021 at Oxford High School, where a 15-year-old student four students and injured seven with a gun he acknowledged he asked his father to buy for him

What people are saying

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, has championed gun safety measures for years. She invited Dylan Morris, a survivor of the Oxford shooting, to the State of the State address. 

"The whole community is still recovering, they'll never stop. The only time we remember is the day after a shooting happens, when you hear it in the news,” she told Bridge Michigan. “We need to remember it all the time. We have to fix this. This is a really serious problem."

Some Republican leaders shared concerns Wednesday, with House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, calling the policies “divisive.” 

“Let’s not start out by dividing people. Let’s start out by finding the things we can do together,” Hall told reporters after the Wednesday address. “I think we need to stay focused on the things that make the state more competitive.”

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township, said “we need to look at what actually works in the criminal justice system” and focus on mental health treatment. He referred to the two mass shootings in California as proof gun safety legislation has not worked in the state.

“We need to make sure we find a balance … and that we protect the rights of the individual,” he said.

Brenden Boudreau, executive director of gun rights advocacy group Great Lakes Gun Rights, criticized Whitmer’s proposed policies as efforts to “dismantle the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

“Using so-called red flag laws to take away due process protections, forcing Michiganders ‘lock up their safety’ by reducing their access to firearms in an emergency and expanding the gun registration system only hurts law-abiding gun owners,” he said in a Monday statement.

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