Health Care

Michigan lawmakers unveil gun control bills after MSU attack

Michigan lawmakers join Illinois, Washington and Minnesota in tackling gun safety legislation.
A student leaves flowers at The Rock on the grounds of Michigan State University, in East Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Michigan’s top lawmakers rolled out new measures aimed at stanching the flood of gun violence after a mass shooting at Michigan State University that left three dead and five injured. 

Lawmakers unveiled new proposals to require safe storage of firearms and ammunition; universal background checks on unlicensed gun sales; and so-called “red flag” mandates that give law enforcement authorities the ability to petition judges to temporarily bar gun ownership from those considered a danger to themselves or others.

“I know that we have a duty to meet this moment with action,” said Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D) in a Senate floor speech Thursday. “While we surround this much love and support as we can possibly find and help them through this traumatic experience. We need to acknowledge that they are counting on us to act with the urgency that this deserves.”

Democrats reclaimed control of the Michigan Legislature in November’s midterm elections, giving the party total control of the swing state for the first time in 40 years. In her own comments, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said her party would be able to advance legislation that would never make it through a Republican-led government.

“We are in a unique position to take action and save lives,” Whitmer said in a video message Wednesday. “And that’s exactly what we are going to do in the weeks ahead.” 

House Speaker Joe Tate (D) also called for action the day of the attack. 

“We have a choice,” Tate said. “We can continue to debate the reasons for gun violence in America, or we can act. We cannot continue to do the same thing over and over again and hope for a different outcome.” 

The attack at Michigan State University is the second major mass shooting in Michigan in less than two years, following an assault on a high school in Oxford, north of Detroit, in November 2021. That shooting left four students dead.

According to the anti-gun-violence group Moms Demand Action, gun violence is the leading cause of death for kids, teens, and college-age students. This year, there have already been at least three incidents of gunfire on school grounds in Michigan, including this week’s shooting at Michigan State University, according to the group.

Across the country, there have been 299 mass shootings since 2009, resulting in 1,678 people shot and killed and 1,087 people shot and wounded, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, another anti-gun-violence group. 

Once a third rail in politics, gun control measures are becoming a key pillar of legislative agendas in Democratic-led states. Lawmakers in Illinois, Minnesota and Washington have all advanced substantial gun control bills in the last several weeks.

Illinois enacted  a sweeping assault weapons ban, but the law has been the focus of several lawsuits, including a temporary restraining order against its implementation. 

Under the law, a raft of guns and accessories were banned from being sold, imported or distributed in the state, including more than 60 specific models and certain categories of firearms, like AR and AK weapons. The law also bans magazines of more than 10 rounds for long guns and more than 15 for handgun magazines. 

Illinois is the ninth state to enact an assault weapons ban. The law was prompted by a shooting at a July 4th parade in Highland Park, Ill., outside of Chicago. That attack killed seven people and wounded dozens of others.

Minnesota’s legislature advanced two bills recently, including a bill to expand background check requirements for firearm sales and other transfers and a red flag law measure.

The House passed similar bills in 2020 but they were never passed by the then-GOP-run Senate. 

“We can and must do more to help keep guns out of the hands of people who have shown themselves to be dangerous and to make our communities safer across the state,” Minnesota Rep. Dave Pinto (D),  a sponsor of both bills, said at a hearing earlier this month.

In Washington, an assault-weapons ban, along with legislation requiring training and another one that would allow gun manufacturers to be sued advanced in January both chambers of the legislature. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) in December had called on the legislature to pass the bill.