Whitmer, a Democrat, approved the measures that have been sought by members of her party for years during a crowded event inside MSU’s Spartan Stadium. The legislation marked the most significant firearm restrictions Michigan has enacted in almost 30 years.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said the gathering represented a change in Michigan politics after Democrats took full control of state government in January. And Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-West Bloomfield, said lawmakers were “finally” taking action to prevent mass shootings.
The new laws, which take effect next year, will expand background check requirements for firearm purchases and impose storage standards for guns kept in homes where children are present.
“All of these initiatives are supported by a majority of Michiganders,” Whitmer said. “I’ve gotten letters from all across our state asking for us to get this done.”
Republican lawmakers have contended the bills won’t prevent future shootings but will infringe on constitutional rights.
Tom Lambert, legislative director for the organization Michigan Open Carry, said the new laws conflicted with a June 2022 decision from the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that expanded gun rights.
“I promise you that it will be challenged,” Lambert said of the bills Whitmer signed.
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On Thursday, the first legal challenge of the gun control legislation was made. Two Michigan gun rights groups sued the Democratic-led Legislature for allegedly failing to provide the groups’ representatives enough time to testify in front of the committees that pushed through the gun regulations in recent weeks. But those groups were challenging the procedures taken to pass the bills, not the constitutionality of the new laws.
Lambert said it was difficult to determine the last time Michigan enacted a sweeping gun restriction. Some gun law changes in recent years came with trade-offs, he said. In 1994, however, then-Republican Gov. John Engler signed a broad law against weapons in schools.
‘It’s a new day’
Hundreds of people gathered Thursday morning on the fourth floor of Spartan Stadium for the governor’s bill signing ceremony, including Democratic lawmakers and supporters of the group Moms Demand Action. Passage of the bills followed weeks of protests at the state Capitol, where students and anti-gun activists called on lawmakers to do something to respond to the violence at MSU.
To start the event, Gilchrist II asked for a moment of silence to remember those lost to gun violence.
“Out of that silence comes action,” Gilchrist said.
“It’s a new day,” Gilchrist added.
The bill signing occurred 59 days after the MSU shooting — the campus is about four miles east of the Capitol building — and 499 days after a 15-year-old boy killed four fellow students at Oxford High School in Oakland County and wounded seven others, including a teacher. Some students from MSU and Oxford High rallied for the legislation at the Capitol.
Whitmer said the bills would take Michigan one step closer to having “common sense” gun policies.
“Gun violence is a scourge that is unique to this country and that’s why we are taking action,” Whitmer said.
At the time of the Oxford shooting, Republicans controlled the Legislature and declined to take up gun control bills. Democrats won majorities in the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years in the November election, providing a political path for the proposals to get to Whitmer.
“We don’t have to live like this,” Whitmer said, “and today we’re showing we don’t have to anymore.”
Jo Kovach, MSU’s student body president, said the legislation marked the first step toward making the campus safer.
“Something that all 40,000 of us know is that we never want anyone else to have to go through what we’ve gone through,” Kovach said referring to MSU’s student population.
A 43-year-old gunman opened fire at MSU’s Berkey Hall on the evening of Feb. 13 and then moved to the student union building. As the shootings played out, the university sent messages telling students to secure in place immediately and to “run, hide, fight.”
Marco Díaz-Muñoz, an assistant professor at Michigan State University whose classroom was attacked by the gunman, encouraged Michigan lawmakers in March to do the “right thing” and the “humane thing” by enacting new gun control measures.
What the bills would do
Michigan law currently requires an individual to obtain a license before purchasing a pistol, which forces buyers to undergo a criminal background check. But long guns purchased from private sellers can be transferred without a criminal history check.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Whitmer said Thursday.
The current background check prevents people with a previous felony on their record or a court order for involuntary hospitalization related to mental health from owning a pistol, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.
Under the new measures, the licensing and background check requirements would be expanded to all types of firearms. But the change wouldn’t apply to purchases that occurred before the bill’s effective date.
The background check bills exempt people under the age of 18 who use their guns for hunting or who possess the guns under the supervision of a parent or guardian.
The storage bills would require individuals who have firearms at home where a minor is present to keep the guns in a locked box or have them unloaded and locked.
Rep. Ranjeev Puri, D-Canton, said he was proud the state was taking steps to “curb senseless gun violence.”“Safe storage and mandatory background checks will save lives,” Puri said.
A third set of so-called “red flag” bills would allow a spouse, family member, a former spouse or a mental health professional to seek a court order temporarily barring someone from owning or purchasing a firearm. The Michigan House approved the bills Thursday, and they now go to the Senate, which could vote as soon as Tuesday on the legislation.
Whitmer said Thursday she looks forward to signing the bills.
“We’ve heard too many times about family and friends express concern about shooters without any action taken,” Whitmer said.
Republicans have expressed concerns about the red flag legislation.
Republican Rep. Bryan Posthumus of Kent County argued the bills give the courts broad disscretion to confiscate firearms from law-abiding individuals based on little to no evidence and shift the burden to defendants to prove they should keep their firearms.
“This legislation turns ‘innocent until proven guilty’ on its head,” Posthumus said in a Thursday statement. “In America, we have the right to bear arms and to due process. This legislation robs Michigan gun owners of those rights.”
Bayer, the Democratic senator from West Bloomfield, said she was sorry it had taken so long for lawmakers to pass bills on guns.
“Today, we’re taking action,” Bayer said, receiving applause from the crowd.
Source: The Detroit News