Bills allowing courts to temporarily take away guns from people deemed dangerous are still on hold in Lansing, and may not get a hearing — at least as currently written.
A proposal giving school employees access to firearms, drafted by a powerful House Republican, likely won’t be ready as early as he hoped.
Still other bills seeking to expand concealed carry rules in Michigan have been placed on ice.
In all, at least 39 gun bills (most, pro-gun) have been introduced in the Michigan Legislature this term, many with no hearing scheduled. More than a month after 17 people were killed in Florida, and days after mass demonstrations against gun violence, Michigan legislative leaders appear to be in no hurry to take action on any of them.
“Moving slowly is the best way to define what’s going on,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, of West Olive. “I can only speak for within our caucus, (but) I think there’s probably a variety of opinions on what is the best course of action.”
- The status of 39 gun bills in the Michigan Legislature
- Where Michigan governor candidates stand on ‘red flag’ gun bills
- Will Florida school shooting nudge Michigan to pass ‘red flag’ gun laws?
Since the Valentine’s Day shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, student groups have taken a leading role advocating for gun control, resulting in organized walkouts from class and the national “March For Our Lives” on Saturday in Washington, D.C., and across the country.
Retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart, have stopped selling semi-automatic rifles and raised the minimum age to buy guns, sparking backlash lawsuits. A number of companies said they will end special discounts for National Rifle Association members.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed new gun control laws earlier this month that include a three-day waiting period to buy most long guns and raised the age for such purchases from 18 to 21. His action broke with the National Rifle Association, which has supported Scott; the NRA filed suit to stop parts of it from taking effect.
No firearms legislation has been introduced in Michigan since the Parkland shootings. Of the 39 bills introduced during the two-year legislative term that began in January 2017, only one — which made technical changes to records coordination between counties and law enforcement — has been signed into law, according to a Bridge analysis. Most of the rest seek to expand gun rights in Michigan; 10 seek to restrict guns in some manner.
Some Democrats, including Rep. Robert Wittenberg, of Huntington Woods, who helped form a gun violence prevention caucus in the Legislature, said it was post-Parkland student activism that has elevated the voices of gun-control advocates.
But has it created a tipping point in Michigan on gun legislation?
“I don’t know,” Wittenberg said. “I’m optimistic and I’m hopeful, because I think we’re all on the right side of the issue.
“To be completely candid with you,” he added, “it’s an election year. And I think you have some people who are really pushing to get elected, and I think in their mind this is an important issue to show their conservative or Second-Amendment chops.”
Gov. Rick Snyder has said it’s time for both sides in the gun debate to find common ground.
After the Florida shooting, Snyder called for bipartisan solutions on guns at a conference hosted by Politico in Washington, D.C. That might start with so-called “red flag” legislation, which would allow courts to intervene and temporarily seize guns from someone who poses a safety risk to self or others. The legislation, sponsored by Wittenberg in June 2017, is stalled in the state House.
“The challenge here is, it’s a very polarizing situation,” Snyder, a term-limited moderate Republican, told the audience. “You have half the people that want to see fewer guns and you actually have people advocating for more guns. I don’t think having more guns is a good thing.”
Snyder has said his perspective on guns was partially shaped by a 1981 shooting that left two students dead at the University of Michigan, where he was in law school.
Earlier this month, a 19-year-old Central Michigan University student from Illinois was accused of killing his parents in a dorm room on the Mount Pleasant campus, using a gun belonging to his father, a part-time police officer.
Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake Township, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has shelved bills that would grant exemptions for someone to carry a concealed firearm in “no-carry zones.”
A state divided
Michigan has the 16th-strongest gun laws in the nation and ranks 27th for most gun deaths per capita, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in San Francisco.
The group, which advocates for stricter gun laws, gives Michigan’s laws a C grade, noting it could raise its grade by requiring background checks on private gun sales, and allowing municipal governments to regulate guns.
“The governor has been hearing a lot of input from different groups and organizations about reforms on firearms, and one topic that kept coming up is red flag legislation, which has been used successfully in other states,” Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said via email.
She said Snyder plans to work with lawmakers on issues regarding mental health and guns to work up a broader proposal.
That could prove to be a tough lift, with leaders in the Republican-controlled Michigan House and Senate passionate about preserving the rights of gun owners.
House Speaker Tom Leonard, a Republican from DeWitt who is running for Attorney General this year, told Bridge he does not support the red flag bills and is focusing on ways to improve mental health treatment.
Senate Republicans said they aren’t hearing requests from constituents on firearms, and because the issue spawns strong emotions, “it’s hard to come up with a single policy directive,” said McCann, the spokeswoman for the majority leader.
Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake Township, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, shelved Senate bills that would grant exemptions for someone to carry a concealed firearm in so-called “no-carry zones," such as schools, daycare centers, churches and sports stadiums. The Senate, meanwhile, sent a House package that would eliminate the requirement of a concealed pistol license to a committee where bills often go to die. Both packages had passed their respective chambers in 2017.
“Neither of those bills were introduced to get at the issue of school safety,” McCann said. “The conversation with regards to guns has very much shifted to safety and security in the schools.”
A coalition of state law enforcement and school groups now says it may have such a plan. Last week, the groups promoted more than $100 million in state grants to help schools hire more school resource officers — often contracted through sheriff or municipal police departments — and mental health workers. Their plan also called for updating school buildings to fix safety problems, such as securing entry doors.
The proposal, now being shopped to legislators, also would bolster threat reporting requirements, and set a range of penalties for making threats against schools.
One subject the coalition conspicuously does not mention? Guns.
“Nothing in this proposal is controversial. Nothing in here is divisive,” said Mark Reene, the Tuscola County prosecutor and past president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. “We owe it to each of those students. This is our time to get this right.”
‘Red flag’ bills draw concern
After recently promising to consider giving the red flag legislation a hearing, House Judiciary Chair Runestad met with Wittenberg, law enforcement officers and other interested groups earlier this month.
The bill would create a new “extreme risk protection order” that would allow a family member or police to seek a court order preventing the person from buying or owning guns for up to a year. Advocates contend that such a law would be helpful if, say, a gun owner was contemplating suicide, or made comments that threatened harm to others.
Runestad said, however, concerns were raised about the due process rights of gun owners, a sentiment echoed by Republican House and Senate leaders. The current bill has no requirement the gun owner be present when the court order is granted.
He said law enforcement was troubled that police officers could be put in a dangerous situation when they are ordered to confiscate someone’s guns.
The idea may sound simple on paper, but “it’s not that simple when you’re the guy standing on the front porch, knocking on the door,” said George Basar, police chief for the city of Howell and legislative chairman for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. Basar said he also wonders if police agencies can be held liable if they miss a weapon during a gun sweep.
Wittenberg said he is open to rewriting the red-flag proposal based on the feedback.
“There’s some more homework that we’re going to have to go back and do,” he said. “I’m open to the idea of looking at how we can change it if there are things they can think might make it better. I get that.”
Guns in schools?
Runestad is working on legislation he says would allow teachers and other school employees, if they chose, to have access to a gun. The gun would have to be securely locked and accessible only to the employee in an active shooter situation.
The school employees who chose to have access to a firearm would have to be vetted and go through similar training as law enforcement officers, Runestad said.
The legislation has not yet been written. Runestad said he had hoped to have a bill ready to introduce this spring, but said it is expected to take longer as he gathers input while writing. He said he thinks it is possible to introduce the bill before the legislative term ends in December.
“I do not support teachers or employees carrying concealed weapons around the school. Never have supported it,” said Runestad, who has family members who were educators. “What I’m doing is slowly, methodically, working on what would be a safe option — not a mandate.”
The concept has gotten pushback from Democratic lawmakers, school groups and some law enforcement officers.
Basar, the Howell police chief, said his association has questions about the process to determine which school staffers will be able to access firearms, who will purchase the weapons and at what cost, and whether police and school employees would fire the same ammunition.
The latter could make it more difficult to determine in an investigation whether a police officer or a teacher fired a particular shot, he said.
Runestad said his 16-year-old daughter attends a public high school, and he is drafting the bill partly with her in mind.
“I want safety being the first and most important aspect for those that choose to do it,” he said.