DJC Partner, Bridge Magazine | Michigan lawmakers treading lightly on guns

Last Updated by Lindsay Van Hulle on

March 26, 2018
Lindsay Van Hulle, Bridge Magazine

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.

Read more at Bridge Magazine >

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