Democrats vowed Wednesday to push new gun-control legislation and to try to revive stalled bills in Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature following a mass shooting that left four high school students dead and others with serious injuries.
But GOP leaders, who have long opposed such measures and have favored looser restrictions, did not immediately commit to policy changes.
“We can’t do nothing,” Sen. Rosemary Bayer, a Democrat whose district includes Oxford High School, told reporters after senators held a moment of silence for the dead. “We have to take action. Right this minute, today, I think I really, really want to focus on the families and … just trying to help them know that we’re here for them, that we’re supporting them in any way we can.”
Earlier this year, mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado reignited calls from gun-control advocates for tighter restrictions on buying firearms and ammunition. But with Democrats in control of the federal government, gun-rights advocates have been persuading Republican-run legislatures to go the other way, and make it easier to obtain and carry guns.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who opposes relaxing restrictions, said gun violence is a public health crisis. She called for unspecified “actions” beyond “thoughts and prayers” but did not elaborate. She has previously backed a measure that would let judges order the seizure of firearms from people who pose a significant risk to themselves or others.
In June, Bayer introduced legislation aimed at holding accountable adults who fail to secure their firearms. The 15-year-old charged in Tuesday’s slayings, Ethan Crumbley, illegally had a handgun that his father had bought four days earlier, authorities said.
The bill would require adults to keep a firearm in a securely locked container if they know it is accessible to minors. If a minor obtained the gun and used it to kill or injure, the adult would face up to five years in prison. There would be exceptions if minors have permission for activities like target practice and hunting.
Republicans have not held a hearing on the measure or other gun-control legislation.
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said. “It’s a balance. It’s a very narrow road. It is hard. These kind of events keep those thoughts in mind.”
He suggested there probably had been warning signs about the shooter, and he questioned how the teen accessed the gun.
“Those kinds of things are already controllable but for maybe just missing the signs,” Shirkey said.
But Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, a Democrat whose office charged Crumbley, called for policy changes without specifying further.
“If the incident yesterday with four children being murdered and multiple kids being injured is not enough to revisit our gun laws, I don’t know what is. … We need to make sure and want to know that when we send our kids to school, they’re safe. Responsible gun ownership is imperative. It’s critical.”
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, a Republican former legislator whose office is investigating the shooting, said gun laws are not being utilized and violators are being allowed to take plea deals.
“I believe the surest way to get a handle on holding people accountable when they’re doing things illegally with a gun is to punish them. That’s not happening in many communities across America today,” he said.
Democratic-sponsored legislation introduced this session or in past years would, among other things, exempt firearm safety devices from the state’s sales tax and expand universal background checks to all gun sales.
Republican-backed bills would remove the general requirement to obtain a license to carry a concealed pistol. Rep. Steve Carra, a Three Rivers Republican running for Congress, said he was drafting legislation to let teachers and school staff store their personal weapons in lockboxes in case of an attack.
One area where lawmakers have found common ground in the past is security funding.
Michigan awarded $50 million in safety grants to schools in 2018 and 2019 following the mass shooting at a Florida high school that claimed 17 lives. Legislators and Whitmer canceled $10 million in funding planned for 2020 due to economic declines during the coronavirus pandemic, did not provide funds in 2021 and authorized $10 million for school-safety grants in 2022.
A spending proposal advancing in the House includes $10 million to help schools cover the cost of school-based law enforcement officers. (AP)