GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids police chief is urging gun owners to securely lock up their weapons as more of them get into the wrong hands.
Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Winstrom is frustrated by tragedies and near-tragedies that he says could have easily been prevented.
“If you’re going to be a gun owner, be a responsible gun owner,” Winstrom said. “It is so easy to prevent these tragedies which we see on a regular basis. Just simply buy a gun lock, keep the guns in a safe.”
Four times this school year, young students were found with guns at Grand Rapids Public Schools. Two of them were this month, with elementary students taking weapons that were not secured at home. In response, the district banned backpacks.
“It is very frustrating to have a 7-year-old and then a week later an 8-year-old bring a gun to school that was fully loaded, one round in the chamber,” Winstrom said. “That was a potential tragedy that could’ve gone totally different if it weren’t for other kids in that school standing up and doing the right thing.”
Two women were charged in connection to the 7-year-old bringing a gun to Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School. Winstrom said Wednesday he anticipates charges in the Stocking Elementary case, where the 8-year-old brought the loaded gun to school. Police have not yet submitted a request for charges to the prosecutor.
“We’re taking these very seriously,” Winstrom said. “When it comes to a 7-year-old, an 8-year-old walking to school with a gun, there are definitely still charges that are applicable to that, and we’re going to follow through and make sure the prosecutor gets some.”
Prosecutors say a loaded gun left unsecured led to the death of 2-year-old Ki’Aire McCoy in Kentwood last Friday. Investigators said 22-year-old Markus Nevills Jr. admitted to leaving the handgun in the couch and then not paying attention as the boy crawled behind him, grabbed the weapon and shot himself. Nevills was charged with manslaughter.
“That’s just totally avoidable with just simple measures to keep your gun safe out of the hands of kids and that 2-year-old would still be alive today,” Winstrom said.
A few months after Winstrom took over as police chief last year, a 13-year-old was shot and killed in the West Grand neighborhood while playing with a gun that was not secured. The gun owner was later charged.
“The potential for tragedy is always there when the firearm is not secured,” Winstrom said.
Grand Rapids averages 200 stolen firearms a year, according to police. More than 80% of those were not secured properly, left in a drawer or out in the open.
“They’re stolen out of a car,” said Fran Dalton, the operations director of the Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association. “They’re stolen out of a home. So if the gun is secure, you can’t steal it. Or if it’s simply locked in this way, you can’t use it.”
Hundreds of gun locks, stopping weapons from firing, are sitting at the Grand Rapids Police Department. They are free for anyone to pick up when the lobby is open between 6 a.m. and 11:45 p.m. all week.
“Stop in 1 Monroe Center, GRPD headquarters, and ask for a gun lock,” Winstrom said. “We’ve got boxes of free gun locks. A lot of our neighborhood associations, if you go to your local neighborhood association meeting, ask them.”
The Garfield Park Neighborhoods Association is one of them. Just this past weekend, it handed out more than a dozen trigger locks.
“The reason why it’s so important is because if you’re going to have a gun, then this thing allows it to be inoperable unless you take the lock off,” Dalton said.
The punishment is about to get steeper for those who fail to secure their guns. A safe storage law recently signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will require gun owners to keep weapons in safes or locked containers or kept unloaded by a trigger lock if they’re in a home with a minor.
“Kids have no concept,” Dalton said. “They see guns as just a thing, not necessarily a deadly thing.”
If the owner doesn’t properly store the gun and it’s used by a minor to kill themselves or others, the owner could be charged with a felony carrying up to 15 years in prison. If the minor uses it to injure someone, the owner could face up to five years in prison.
The safe storage law will officially go into effect three months after the end of the legislative session, so likely early next year.