Oxford shooting: Michigan Dems seek gun storage law. It may be a long fight.
LANSING — When Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald announced involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents of the alleged Oxford High School shooter Friday, she said their behavior was “egregious” and felonious.
James and Jennifer Crumbley bought the 15-year-old a 9mm Sig Sauer SP2022 on Black Friday, ignored his troubling behavior and failed to keep the gun secure before he allegedly killed four classmates last week, McDonald said.
But failing to keep a gun secure and away from minors is not illegal in Michigan.
Since June, a set of bills has languished in the Michigan Legislature that would require adults to secure guns in a lock box if they have minors in the house. Failure to do so would be a five-year felony if the gun is used in a shooting death, including suicide.
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Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township, told Bridge Michigan that she believes if her bill was in place “we would have had a chance” to prevent the Oxford tragedy.
“We would have had a chance that this might not have happened,” she said.
She wants Michigan to join a growing number of states that have passed similar laws. Republicans who control the Legislature have yet to give the bills a hearing, however, and experiences in other states indicate it could be a long fight.
Overall, 30 states have so-called child access prevention laws, which “do not mandate a particular type of storage, but they impose criminal liability on people who leave their firearms accessible to minors,” said Allison Alderman, the senior counsel at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence a California-based public interest group.
California, New York, Colorado and Connecticut require safe gun storage if a minor lives in the household, while Massachusetts and Oregon require firearms to be safely stored or locked when they are not under the immediate control of the owners. All states are fairly liberal or have Democratic legislatures.
Asked by Bridge on Monday about the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said “we need to enforce the laws we have.”
His spokesperson, Abby Mitch, said “there is no current plan to hold a hearing” on the legislation, but Shirkey is open to hearings on so-called “red flag” laws that permit family members to petition courts to temporarily remove guns from those deemed a danger.
A spokesperson for Michigan House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said he will “let the committee do its work on the issue and make a recommendation before weighing in on specific proposals.”
The spokesperson didn’t respond whether Wentworth would support the measure.
The Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter alleging their actions contributed to the murders of Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17, and wounding several others, including a teacher.
The couple’s attorney, Shannon Smith, said the Crumbleys are “just as devastated as everyone else” and accused prosecutors of using “cherry-picked and slanted specific facts to further their narrative.”
"When (the) prosecution is stating this child had free access to the gun, that is just absolutely not true," she said during their arraignment Saturday.
The couple remains jailed, as does their son, Ethan, who is charged as an adult with crimes that could imprison him for life.
Building momentum takes time
The bill proposed by the Michigan Democrats has many similarities to one passed in Oregon.
Oregon state Rep. Rachel Prusak, a Democrat, told Bridge Michigan the measure that became law over the summer was a decade in the making — even though Democrats control the state Legislature and governor’s office.
In 2012, a 22-year-old man stole an unlocked semi-automatic rifle and used it to kill two people, and severely injured another, at the Clackamas Town Center outside of Portland, Oregon.
The owner of the gun didn’t break any federal or state laws.
One of Prusak’s constituents was a victim in the mall shooting, so she started fighting for safe storage measures. A coalition was formed, and in summer 2021, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill that requires gun owners to safely secure or lock their firearms.
“I hope with this law in place that we save lives — bottom line,” Prusak said.
Tom O’Connor, a co-founder of the Oregon-based Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership, said his group helped originate the Oregon law.
“We are an organization of gun owners who believe that with rights come responsibilities,” O’Connor told Bridge Michigan Monday. “And one of the most important responsibilities is to safely secure your firearm.”
Michigan Republicans have expressed concerns about passing gun safety measures.
Last week, Shirkey told reporters “if we get obsessed with eliminating all risks, we will then develop and evolve into a country we won’t recognize, because we'll also have no freedoms.”
But O’Connor said safe storage laws do not infringe on people’s rights to possess guns.
“Securing your firearm doesn't say anything about your rights to purchase a firearm or have one in your home,” O’Connor said.
Safe storage could protect minors
According to an analysis by the Washington Post, from 1999 to 2018, the shooters in at least 145 school shootings were under 18 years old.
In 84 of those shootings, the gun used was taken either from the shooter’s home or the home of a friend or relative.
Alderman, the senior counsel of the Giffords Law Center, told Bridge safe storage laws can have a big impact because they also “reduce suicides and unintentional shootings among minors by up to 54 percent.”
“The overwhelming number of minors in this country who are shot and or killed do not die in mass shootings like the one that happened in Michigan,: Alderman said. “They take their own lives with guns. They are killed in domestic violence incidents. They are killed in instances of community violence that disproportionately impacts communities of color.”
Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, the sponsor of the Senate bill, told Bridge she has yet to talk with her Republican colleagues about how to move forward.
She said she has talked to parents in Oxford, and that she has pledged to “fight back.”
“Republicans stand there and say, you know, you're infringing on our freedoms,” Bayer said. “What about the freedom to live?”
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