KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan prosecutor is renewing his plea for legislative action on a bill that would criminalize unsafe storage of firearms around children.
In the wake of the Oxford school shooting, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting is hoping state lawmakers will consider a safe storage bill currently languishing in legislative committees.
“In Michigan, what we have right now is no conversation being had around these bills that have been introduced in the legislature,” said Getting, a democrat, in a Zoom interview with News 8. “I think there’s common ground here between people who want to make sure firearms are stored responsibly and people who want to ensure that individuals have access to firearms for purposes of self-defense.”
Under House Bill 5066, if a child accesses an unsecured firearm, the gun’s owner could face a misdemeanor charge.
If the child injures of kills themselves or others with an unsecured gun, the owner of the firearm would face a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison.
In the case of the Oxford school shooter’s parents, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said the negligence was so egregious it warranted a charge of involuntary manslaughter, which is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.
But Getting said prosecutors need a charging option for cases in which the gun owner’s negligence does not rise to the level of recklessness required for involuntary manslaughter.
“We shouldn’t have to wait until the very worst or the worst things happen in order for us to hold a firearm owner accountable for not (securing) their weapon,” said Getting. “These safe storage laws allow for us to have an option to hold these persons accountable for their negligence in the way they’re storing their firearm at home.”
In June, 9-year-old Carl Atkins was shot and killed in his Kalamazoo home.
Atkins was home alone with two young siblings at the time, but investigators have been unable to determine exactly how the shooting happened nor who owns the gun.
The family has reportedly been uncooperative.
The safe storage bill is currently stuck in Republican-led legislative committees with little hope of movement.
On the Senate side, SB 550 was referred to the Government Operations Committee, which is chaired by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake.
In the House, HB 5066 awaits a hearing in the Committee on Military, Veterans and Homeland Security, which is headed up by Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain.
The U.P. legislator made clear he has no plans to schedule the bill for a hearing.
“There are plenty of laws that deal with criminal negligence for a skilled prosecutor to use. The bill in question has too many impracticalities and opportunities for unintended consequences,” wrote LaFave in response to News 8’s inquiry.
The Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners said there are no statistics proving child access prevention laws reduce the number of shootings involving children and unsecured guns.
“We’ve got laws in place already to punish gross negligence, and what you’re talking about is adding one more law to a long list,” said Steve Dulan, chair of the MCRGO Legal Foundation.