Michigan lawmakers treading lightly on guns

Republican leaders in Lansing are taking a cautious stance on pending gun legislation now before them.

August 2019: After week of mass shootings, can ‘red-flag’ law gain traction in Michigan?

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.”


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.

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Kevin Grand
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 7:29am

For a state that says, "Every person has a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of himself and the state," there certainly are a lot of government imposed restrictions on that clearly enumerated right.

The entire notion of a "lock box" if laughable, when you consider the fact that you need to be at or very near the lock box (to say nothing about the time it will take accessing its contents), for it to have any effectiveness. I'm also very skeptical of an active shooter agreeing to a "time-out" while they wait for their targets to be able to defend themselves. Active shooters generally don't put themselves into a situation where they can find themselves as the victim.

The analogy of an active shooter going after an NRA convention readily comes to mind.

So far, the debate has centered overwhelmingly on emotion and never on facts. The focus is always on an object, and never the individual.

There is already a system in place to address this issue, it only needs to be used more often.

Over the past several weeks, several individuals were identified making threats either in general or directed at a certain location.

Those individuals were located and taken into custody and are now looking at long stays away from the public where they will be of no thread to anyone.

Before going and reinventing the wheel, why not concentrate on working with what you already have available.

John Q. Public
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 2:17pm

One can reasonably argue that even the existing restrictions are unconstitutional. "Every person" is pretty clear. It's not that many of the restrictions aren't reasonable; just that we should be more careful about the language we enshrine in our constitutions if we want reason to carry the day.

Chuck Fellows
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 9:06am

More guns will make us safer? Guns in schools as a safety measure?
Both actions appear to be the definition of insanity. It represents the cowardice of our elected representatives.
It insults every responsible gun owner and serious sportsperson in the state.

Gene Markel
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 9:18am

Got a gun problem? Get more guns. Thus saith the NRA. The bigly problem is money talks bs walks and my reelection war chest needs funding. Individual contributions don’t cut it. The right to keep and bare arms is the right to kill people. So saith the AR15.

Tom Reynolds
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 12:54pm

"Keep and BEAR arms".
Your sarcasm is little better than your spelling. And, apparently, your understanding of the issue.

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 9:27am

To see just how great gun restriction legislation works, take a look at DC or Chicago or even our own near and dear Detroit, with 7% of the population and 50% of the homicides in Michigan.

I chuckle when liberal reporters, who have probably never fired a gun in their lifetime, pound away at the AR-15 as a weapon of war. The mechanism of the AR-15 is the same as the hundreds of thousands of Michiganders take up north hunting every year. Yes, it does have a Rambo looking stock but that is where the similarity ends. The rounds that it fires, .223 caliber, have been used by farmers for years in ridding their fields of varmints. The design of the AR-15 itself is over 50 years old and still only fires one bullet when the trigger is pulled, and federal law already prohibits automatic weapons (machine guns or true weapons of war).

We must go after the user. What makes a bullied student lash out at his school. What makes the loner hate so much. Why are people pushed so much at work that they react in violent ways.

Barry Visel
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 11:28am

It appears the direction in Lansing is headed toward spending more tax dollars for school building safety measures, and for more mental health services, just so we don’t infringe on the second amendment which has to do with “A well regulated militia...”. Okay, so let’s tax guns to pay for for these increased costs which appear to be caused by easy access to guns.

Also, what do law enforcement leaders say about this gun issue? Perhaps they have a better perspective than lawmakers? Maybe Bridge could reach out to them.

John Q. Public
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 2:11pm

Article 1 Section 6 of the Michigan Constitution:

§ 6 Bearing of arms.
Every person has a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of himself and the state.

doesn't mention a well-regulated militia. Given the meaning of "militia" in the 1700s compared to our use of it today (i.e., the militia is composed of government employees using government-owned and issued arms stored in government armories) leaves plenty of room for reasonable disagreement as to the intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Even so, the SCOTUS has already ruled on that issue.

We'll agree to disagree, I'm sure, but I don't give two hoots about what law enforcement leaders think. As they are fond of pointing out when it suits them, "(They) don't make the law, (they) just enforce it." Law enforcement as an institution spends way too much time trying to position itself as a class of super-citizen separate and above the non-law-enforcement rest of us, and the rest of us are way too accommodating in allowing them to do so.

Mon, 03/26/2018 - 6:19pm

Increased costs are not "caused" by easy access to guns. The increased costs are caused by mentally unstable people that the system does not stop from getting guns, due to incompetence of the people who are being paid to stop it. The Parkland shooting would have never happened is the sheriff department had recorded that they were called to this psycho's house 39 times, or if the FBI had not been so busy on their Russian collusion witch hunt that they couldn't take time to properly investigate 2 calls to them about the same person.

I think that your drivers license should be removed because the neighbor down the street from you is a drunk driver. Makes as much sense as the ideas being proposed by most of the anti gun zealots.

Tom Reynolds
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 12:57pm

I see nobody is taking issue when those who are tasked with enforcing the law fail to do so. When government entities fail, (those SAME agencies some would have disarm citizens) they need to be held accountable. We don't need NEW laws, we need proper enforcement of EXISTING laws.

Phillip Evans
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 3:03pm

Most of the existing laws infringe on our Second Amendment Rights. A very tiny fraction of them would survive repeal if we had men like our Founding Fathers in government.

Erwin Haas, Li...
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 9:21pm

I’m told that one of the demands by the marching adolescents on Saturday was to forbid the sale of guns to those under age 21. That and the Nazi salute by one of the leaders powerfully established this movement as racist of the national socialist persuasion. They logically should adopt a more rational proposal but don't because of their hatred of blacks. But the teen mind (especially that of the news media) is poorly organized and so the obvious point may never make its way through the dimly lit corridors of their brains.
I refer, of course, to the huge gun death toll among young African American men- representing both the perpetrators and victims; There were 5,452 deaths in this demographic in 2011. The rate was about 8 times that among comparable white men. The few dozen murdered, mostly white high school kids, doted on on Saturday, pale into comparison to the holocaust and correspondingly, number of killers among young black men.
If keeping 21 year olds from buying weapons is proposed as a way to prevent the tragic deaths of a small number of pale public school students, balance would dictate that we extend that same thinking to a much larger demographic, namely young African American men. Denying them the right to buy guns would have a much greater impact on the overall murder rate which is so concentrated on this vulnerable minority. This observation should inspire unquestioning support in the thinking of our PC youthful activists and of the Michigan legislature.
The probability that the “movement” will embrace this sage advice, in light of their Nurenberg-inspired massing, -shouting and -use of symbols and will to adopt the yoked recommendation denying both black men and under 21 year olds the right to buy guns is nil (and I personally think that both ideas reek.)
Failure to follow this logical evolution of the gun control debate would expose the hidden NSDAP proclivities in this youth.

walter kelly
Mon, 03/26/2018 - 10:57pm

If we are going to enact "Red Flag" provisions, then we must equally enact "Constitutional Carry". There must be fairness and equality for both sides.

If responsible gun owners have taken the time to abide by the Law and are being reprimanded for doing just that, then there is a problem with this form of Democracy.

We must be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishments.

Citizen S
Tue, 03/27/2018 - 9:00am

Recently my husband and I went to a gun shop to buy a small handgun. He was buying it for himself, but in an emergency I would use it. The shop checked his credentials and background. They did not check mine. Strange? I live in the same house and would have access to the gun. Shouldn't the gun laws check me as the spouse with access to the gun?

David M. Bennett
Wed, 04/04/2018 - 10:17am

Do law-abiding citizens lose rights just because a family member lost theirs?

walter kelly
Wed, 03/28/2018 - 5:36pm

I could never understand how a law-abiding citizen who discloses that he/she is carrying a firearm, the manner in which it is being carried, how it's being carried, and where it's being carried can and should be convicted of a felony crime....

I mean criminals tend to hide, be discrete, or lie about their intentions and actions, so why is it that Honesty and Integrity have been categorized as a criminal act and defining in character?

The fact that we need a Bill that enforces citizen's disclosure of their legally owned firearm to Police during a Traffic Stop is a true depiction of how bad our laws are around gun control.

It is very unfortunate that our society has depicted citizens whom carry firearms to be criminals, and the Police and Prosecution to be bent on convicting citizens just for being Honest, having Integrity, and keeping the Police Officers Health and welfare in mind.

We need to change the Culture.

David M. Bennett
Wed, 04/04/2018 - 10:12am

Teachers have Constitutional Rights too! Let them carry. Public-employees ARE NOT second-class citizens!

Fri, 08/03/2018 - 5:56pm

I was just walking the dog at my local Bay City State park and noticed they were having a Wildfowl festival. I was like cool there will be dogs there. I turn the corner and see this huge evil NRA gun lobby booth where they are teach 3-14 year olds to shoot pellet guns!!! This has to be a huge ethical violation being it's on state owned land. So gross!