Truth Squad: Questioning Gretchen Whitmer’s gun control record in Michigan

August 2019: After week of mass shootings, can ‘red-flag’ law gain traction in Michigan?
November 6: Gretchen Whitmer projected winner in Michigan governor race
November 6: What Gretchen Whitmer promises to do as Michigan’s next governor​
October 2018: Truth Squad | Ads unfairly attack Whitmer on healthcare, missed votes
August 2018 update: Gretchen Whitmer wins Democratic primary for Michigan governor

Few issues these days are divisive as guns, and Democrats in Michigan’s race for governor are beginning to challenge each other’s bona fides on the litmus test issue.

Presumed frontrunner Gretchen Whitmer came under attack last week from challenger Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, who accused her failing to “talk about an assault weapons ban” and ignoring school shootings.

El-Sayed is trying to outflank Whitmer on the left by calling for an all-out prohibition on AR-15s and similar weapons.

It’s true Whitmer hasn’t been vocal about a ban during her campaign, touting other reforms instead. But El-Sayed’s assertion is mostly inaccurate because Whitmer has spoken in favor of banning assault weapons for years, says she hasn’t changed her position, and was a featured speaker at the Lansing March for Our Lives rally for gun control.

The Claim

“Why won't Gretchen Whitmer - the establishment's pick for governor - talk about an assault weapons ban? Didn't she see the same pictures coming out of Parkland? And Sandy Hook? And every other school shooting since Columbine? And how about those kids this weekend, who marched across this country with courage and determination - do they mean anything?”

Related Michigan gun stories:

The facts

El-Sayed, the city of Detroit’s former health director, calls for a ban on “military-style assault weapons like the AR-15” on his website. His campaign has released an ad on social media in March blasting Whitmer for not doing do the same.

Whitmer’s website lays out seven “concrete steps” to deter school shootings, including banning bump stocks and increasing resources for safety officers. The list doesn’t mention assault weapons.

El-Sayed campaign spokesman, Adam Joseph, said the silence extends to Whitmer’s public statements and social media since Feb. 14, when a former student killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“A clear stance on supporting (or not supporting) an (assault weapons ban) at this point seems like a common sense thing public officials running for high office must address,” Joseph wrote in an email to Bridge.

“It is clearly part of the national discussion.”

Related: Michigan Truth Squad: Abdul El-Sayed promises single-payer healthcare
Related: El-Sayed asks court to settle his eligibility for Michigan governor
More: 2018 Michigan Truth Squad

Asked by WJIM-1240 AM host Steve Gruber on March 4 if she would curtail the sale of semi-automatic weapons, Whitmer responded: “That’s exactly one of the kinds of questions that polarizes everyone and stops us from having real thoughtful conversation about gun safety, which is where conversation needs to be headed.”

But Whitmer hasn’t been silent on guns. In fact, she spoke for 7 minutes on the state Capitol steps on March 24 during the March for Our Lives rally.

Whitmer, a former Senate minority leader, called for several reforms, including better background checks, improved waiting lists and so-called red flag bills to allow families and police to petition judges to remove guns from those with mental problems. The speech included a passing reference to prohibitions on assault weapons.

“We refuse to stand silently by. Let them hear you,” Whitmer told the crowd during one of hundreds of rallies nationwide in response to the Parkland shootings.

“We are seeing veterans who served our country and carried deadly weapons. They protected our country, and now they are coming together and saying ‘These weapons have no purpose on our streets.’”

Whitmer gained national attention in 2012 for a guest column she wrote for the Huffington Post after a gunman killed 26 children and himself at a school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

“We must begin by enacting the common sense reforms that keep assault rifles, weapons designed for the sole purpose of mass killings, off the market and ensure that those with a history of mental illness do not have access to guns,” Whitmer wrote in the essay titled “A Message to NRA President Wayne LaPierre: How Dare You?

Whitmer also called for a ban on assault weapons in an op-ed published the following year in the Lansing State Journal, that called for “reforms that keep assault weapons… off the market.”

Whitmer’s campaign literature when she ran for the state House in 2000 cited the school shootings in Columbine in calling for laws to limit access to assault weapons to children. And when she was in the Legislature in the 2000s,  she consistently earned ‘F’ ratings from the National Rifle Association.

“She’s made her position very well known for a very long time,” said Annie Ellison, Whitmer’s campaign spokeswoman.

“She wants to get assault weapons off the street. There is no need for assault rifles on the market.”

Joseph said Whitmer hasn’t voiced those positions lately, and speculated that she believes doing so would hurt her in the general election.

“Voters don't care about what was in a blog post in 2012,” Joseph said. “They want to know that their public servants are willing to lead on this issue and make it a priority right now.”

Abdul El-Sayed
Social media claims
The Call
Mostly Inaccurate

While it’s clear that Whitmer hasn’t been as outspoken about assault weapons during this campaign as El-Sayed, her views on them are available to anyone who as access to Google.

Contacted by Bridge Magazine on Monday, Whitmer’s campaign reiterated that she favors an assault weapons ban. Failing to repeat the position in recent weeks doesn’t negate it, Ellison said.

“She’s been a leading progressive voice on this issue for years,” she said.

El-Sayed’s online criticism went further, implying that Whitmer, the mother of two teenage girls, failed to see violent images of three notorious school shootings and ignored the movement they caused.

After each shooting, though, Whitmer spoke out forcefully for gun reform. And two days before El-Sayed’s criticism, she was lending her voice to the nationwide movement to stop school shootings.

Afternoon update: Both El-Sayed and Whitmer continued to feud over the issue.

And Whitmer's response

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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A Michigan Voter
Wed, 04/04/2018 - 8:46am

Easy to soapbox when your party is not in the majority and you are not running for governor.

Regarding semi-automatic weapons: “That’s exactly one of the kinds of questions that polarizes everyone and stops us from having real thoughtful conversation about gun safety, which is where conversation needs to be headed.” isn't really the bold statement I'm looking for in a candidate.

A Michigan Voter
Wed, 04/04/2018 - 10:03am

How is the claim inaccurate? Her previous comments weren’t during her tenure as a gubernatorial candidate. She may personally believe in a ban, but it’s clearly not reflected in her public statements nor her gun reform policies. This speaks volumes to why establishment politicians are part of the problem. She refused to take a stance on this important issue, in order to not appear controversial.

Aldo Sax
Sat, 07/28/2018 - 10:52pm

She only seems to take strong positions when literally no one could disagree. Prime example being "fix the damn roads". It's a campaign completely devoid of substance.

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 10:16am

"El-Sayed is trying to outflank Whitmer on the left by calling for an all-out prohibition on AR-15s and similar weapons." So what is a similar weapon, Mr. El-Sayed? In my mind, it encompasses almost every single weapon that Michigan hunters use while hunting. Fires one shot when the trigger is pulled. Check. Semi-automatic. Check. Fires a projectile less than 9 mm or .38 caliber. Check. Your lack of knowledge is showing. Now if you wanted to outlaw high capacity magazines, then maybe you would have more credibility. But other than that, what would you do that did not impinge on the multitude of Michigan hunters who take to the woods every year?

And the same could be said for Ms. Whitmer who wants to ban assault weapons. True assault weapons like the M-16 or AK-47 fire in automatic mode, which is a machine gun, which has been outlawed since the days before Al Capone.

The dems have no plan to increase school safety. The guy in Boston made a complete mess with a pressure cooker, and a pressure cooker might be easier to sneak into a school than a rifle.

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 7:42pm

Agreed. Whitmer is tippy-toe-ing here. She knows (and any common sense person knows) that it's not the inanimate object, but the person behind it. We already have "assault" laws, THE MICHIGAN PENAL CODE - Act 328 of 1931, and as you stated, M-16's and AK-47's have been outlawed since the 1930's. So it's all been covered. Anything from a pencil, to a pillow, to a pressure cooker, to a fist, or a rental truck can be and have been used to "assault" people. It's the evil person, not the object used. An "assault weapons ban", whatever that is, won't fix a black heart, and she knows it! Mr. El-Sayed does too.

K.P. Pelleran
Wed, 04/04/2018 - 10:46am

Whitmer has been clear. She opposes assault weapons. As an elected official, all comments stand forever unless retracted or expanded upon.

Truth seeker
Thu, 04/05/2018 - 2:58am

So as a Michigander who is in favour of an Assault Weapons BAN. Do I vote for Gretchen who spoke about it 5/6 yrs ago and has gone quiet and has not mentioned a ban ONCE on her campaign trail, or vote Abdul who speaks about a ban on ASSAULT WEAPONS at every opportunity he gets. Think Abdul wins for me

Mrs A
Wed, 04/04/2018 - 7:07pm

I appreciate that Whitmer's first response is the intention to reach out and seek open dialogue on the goal of accomplishing gun safety, rather than make a blanket statement about a specific named weapon. Gun safety is a subject all Michiganders can get behind, regardless of party or position on the Second Amendment. Whitmer demonstrates real leadership on what is easily one of the most controversial election topics. Her judgment in addition to her extensive legislative experience puts her head and shoulders above the competition.

Truth seeker
Thu, 04/05/2018 - 2:48am

At no stage on her campaign has Gretchen mentioned a ban on ASSAULT WEAPONS. U mention her support 5/6 yrs ago for a ban is laughable, people change their views over days let alone 5/6yrs. She's had ample opportunity and not taken it so this makes your MOSTLY INACCURATE AS BS.

Truth seeker
Thu, 04/05/2018 - 2:52am

The ELECTORATE have every right to know her current position, if she ain't saying it or its not in her platform for michigan gov HOW are we the people supposed to believe her. People say things yrs ago they no longer stand by know, she has not mentioned a ban on ASSAULT WEAPONS since he campaign began #Fact

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 4:06pm

If democrats had -half- a brain, they would just drop all talk of gun control. period. They are dumb and keep buying into and even leading the scare tactics of the leftist communist agenda.

Dan Thompson
Tue, 10/09/2018 - 10:25pm

The United STATES Constitution is clear...perhaps too clear for argumentative cantrarions seeking power; No legislature...Federal or otherwise may infringe on the Right of The People to bear arms...PERIOD. other machines, evolve in efficiency and performance.
Particularly, the Government Military's ability.
THE PEOPLE...should never GIVE UP fire -power capability...for as to diminish The People's ability to FIGHT a DESPOT power....such as The Dems seek to be.

Stu Chisholm
Thu, 11/01/2018 - 3:37am

This is an idiotic non-issue; there's no such thing as an "assault weapon." Fully automatic firearms used on the battlefield are NOT available at your local gun store. An AR-15 may LOOK like the army's M4/M16, but it is NOT a machine gun. It is simply a scary looking modular semi-auto rifle, much like many others use for sporting events, hunting, security and recreational shooting. I won't vote for ANY candidate who gives voice to such ignorant nonsense.