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Michigan gun reform: Democrats may pursue red-flag laws. What research says

gun law book next to gavel
Michigan Democrats say they may want to pursue universal background checks, safe storage laws and red flag laws when they take control of all branches of state government in January. (Shutterstock)

LANSING — Michigan Democrats may push for “red flag” gun laws when they take control of the state Legislature in January. 

Democrats, who will lead all branches of government for the first time in decades, have said gun reform is a priority, especially in the wake of last year’s shooting at Oxford High School and a rise of mass shootings nationwide: Of the 172 from 1966 and 2019, more than half have been since 2000 ,and 20 percent were from 2010 and 2019, according to The Violence Project, funded by the U.S. Justice Department.

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State Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, has told Bridge Michigan that Democrats will likely prioritize three areas of gun reform: universal background checks, safe storage laws with a focus on keeping guns out of the hands of children and “red flag” laws, which would allow someone’s gun to be taken away temporarily if they are deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

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Other states are also adopting gun reforms:  In recent months, California prohibited gun sellers from marketing products to minors and restricted “ghost guns” — privately assembled guns that are not traceable — while Delaware strengthened background checks and regulated high-capacity magazines and Vermont banned guns from hospitals and the transfer of firearms between unlicensed people.

What happens after states pass these laws? 

Bridge Michigan reviewed more than 20 studies about the impact of gun reform. but some scholars contend more time and data are needed to make conclusions.  That’s because “research has been limited by lack of funding and data,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted in a 2017 report. From 1996 to 2019, federal law — pushed by the National Rifle Association — essentially banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding gun violence research.

Here’s what studies say about red-flag laws.

What are they?

“Red flag laws” is a term used to refer to extreme risk protection orders. They are laws that allow a judge to order temporary removal of someone’s gun if the judge believes they would use it to hurt others or themselves.

In all, 19 states and Washington, D.C. have such laws. The first one to do so was Connecticut in 1999. Indiana followed in 2005, passing Jake Laird’s Law to honor a police officer who was shot and killed by a man suffering from mental health disorders. 

Despite wide implementation, red flag laws are rarely enforced even as gun deaths soared. The Associated Press found that those laws had been used 15,049 times across the nation to remove firearms from people since 2020 — fewer than 10 per 100,000 adult residents. 

The law was mostly used in Florida, Illinois and California, the analysis found. 

What would Michigan’s law look like?

Bayer said proposed red flag laws in Michigan would allow family members of the person they deem a danger to themselves or others to call the police, and law enforcement would have the authority to temporarily take away that person’s gun for three days while they wait for a hearing.

Following the hearing, a judge would have the power to order temporary removal of the gun for up to a year, she said.

Bayer said the bill, if passed into law, must go hand in hand with police training on how to deal with mental health crises and enhanced penalties for people who file a false report with the police.

Do the red flag laws work?

It’s hard to say because there’s not enough research.

That’s partly because of the lack of federal funding and how new the laws are, Zeoli, the UM researcher, noted.

Among existing studies, some showed red flag laws could reduce gun-related suicides and mass shootings: 

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The legislation is controversial among scholars studying its impact. 

Initial results from a study in Montana found red flag laws in the state could have led to reduction in firearm homicides. But the study ultimately cautioned “these laws are likely a symptom rather than the cause of decreased rates of firearm suicide and firearm homicide.”

Some studies have urged policymakers to tread with caution when designing red flag laws, arguing it is possible to infringe on a gun holder’s constitutional right to bear arms. 

But other experts argue in their research the law can still be implemented without conflicting with one’s Second Amendment rights.

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