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Michigan sheriff fought new ‘red flag’ gun law. Now he’s using it

 Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy looking at the camera in his office. He is in his brown officer uniform
In an April 2023 video posted to Facebook, Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy declared Michigan’s new red flag law ‘unconstitutional.’ He later used the law to confiscate a gun. (Screenshot)
  • A Livingston County sheriff who initially decried Michigan’s ‘red flag’ law as unconstitutional used it to confiscate a gun from a man last month
  • Despite initial concerns law enforcement agencies wouldn’t execute extreme risk protection orders, none have defied an order to date
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the law last year over objections from Republicans and gun rights advocates

LANSING — A Michigan sheriff who last year declared he would not enforce the state's new “red flag” gun law is among authorities using the statute to confiscate weapons, according to records obtained by Bridge Michigan.

The reversal by Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy points to the practical realities of law enforcement in the wake of a heated political debate over the law, which allows individuals to petition judges to confiscate guns from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others.


In an April 2023 Facebook video posted weeks before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the gun safety measure into law, Murphy said he didn’t believe extreme risk protection orders were constitutional, panning the effort as “trying to fix societies’ ills with legislation that’s never worked.” 

The next day, members of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners declared their jurisdiction a “Constitutional County,” vowing to push back as much as they could against the pending laws.


That resolution urged Murphy and the county prosecutor to use their discretion when deciding to enforce any law "that is contrary to the rights established" by the U.S. or Michigan constitutions. 

But one year later, records show Murphy's office was one of the first in Livingston County to use an “extreme risk protection order” to confiscate weapons from a man undergoing what a deputy called a mental health crisis.

The case was one of three red flag orders requested so far in the conservative county since the law took effect three months ago, on Feb. 13. The others were requested by the Michigan State Police over a suicide threat and a wife against her husband.

Murphy, a Republican, told Bridge last week he’s “still not a fan of” risk protection orders, “however, if there’s a tool that we can use in law enforcement to accomplish a goal, then why would we not use it?”

Sanctuary counties

Livingston is among dozens of Michigan counties where conservative officials have adopted resolutions declaring themselves "Second Amendment Sanctuaries" that support gun rights.

But those resolutions have not yet spurred police defiance, according to the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat. 

To date, the department is “not aware of any incidence of a law enforcement agency refusing to execute,” spokesperson Danny Wimmer told Bridge.

Many of the public protests over the red flag policy were proactive, occurring before Whitmer last year signed legislation to implement extreme risk protection orders, otherwise known as ERPOs.

Democrats approved the measures — along with new gun storage rules and universal background checks — following a fatal mass shooting at Michigan State University in February of that year. In doing so, they also cited the deadly Oxford High School in 2021.

It’s no surprise that law enforcement officials who criticized the policy are still enforcing the law, said April Zeoli, policy core director at the University of Michigan’s Institute of Firearm Injury Prevention.

“We’ve seen in a lot of states certain sheriffs taking a stand and saying they’re not going to enforce them,” Zeoli said. “But they always do, because it’s the law. … They recognize that some people are not safe to own guns at that moment.”

Since the law took effect mid-February 2024, use of risk protection orders has been sporadic, despite initial concerns from Republicans and other gun rights advocates the move would result in the vindictive removal of firearms.

So far, that hasn’t come to pass. An earlier Bridge review found fewer than 40 risk protection orders filed statewide between Feb. 13, when the law took effect, and March 26.

The orders require a court hearing before a judge, who can seize weapons for a year or more. The law allows those whose guns are seized to contest the order in court once every six months under a year-long risk protection order. 

Reasons for those initial orders were wide-reaching.

With approval from local judges, authorities removed guns from the home of a 10-year-old threatening to shoot his classmates, a volatile husband threatening to kill his wife in the midst of separation and people suffering apparent mental health crises.

An official statewide count of how many orders were filed in 2024 is expected early next year, according to the State Court Administrative Office, coming annually thereafter. 

‘A totally different situation’

In some counties, including Allegan and Barry, no extreme risk protection orders had been filed or issued as of May 6, according to circuit court clerks.

Of the three red flag orders filed in Livingston County, a judge denied one due to a lack of information proving the request necessary. The other two, including the one filed by a Livingston County Sheriff’s deputy, were granted and pertained to individuals having mental health crises.

In the April order initiated by the sheriff’s department, authorities responded to a home in Fowlerville where an intoxicated man was seen crying and pacing his backyard with a handgun. 

After being taken to a local hospital for evaluation, the man began threatening to shoot authorities, hospital staff and his neighbors — prompting officers to seek an extreme risk protection order to confiscate his weapons. 

While Murphy said he’s still not a fan of the red flag law, his concerns have somewhat eased because many of the initial requests were initiated by law enforcement or mental health professionals. 

They’re people who Murphy defined as “somebody with some credibility,” which he said “is a totally different situation than a scorned ex.” 

Michigan’s extreme risk protection order law specifies who can petition the court: those with either a personal familial or romantic relationship with the gun owner, a roommate or a mandatory reporter, such as a police officer or health care provider. 

“Red flag laws create a preventative tool — a stopgap for loved ones, judges, and law enforcement,” sponsoring said Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, in a Senate floor speech


“And while it is difficult to measure events that did not happen, evidence shows that these extreme risk protection orders can and do save lives.”

Murphy remains skeptical. 

He contends there is “no way to definitively say” whether an extreme risk protection order saved someone’s life, likening the effort to an officer catching and stopping a driver exceeding the speed limit.

“To say, ‘but for that cop being there, there would have been a crash miles down the road’ … you can’t say that,” Murphy said. “It’s the same thing with ERPOs.”

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