GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s three gun safety proposals could become the law of the land as Democrats control a trifecta in state government for the first time in nearly 40 years.
The governor in her Jan. 25 State of the State address said she wants to mandate universal background checks, safe storage laws and red flag laws.
Michigan Democrats, who control the state House and Senate, have strongly supported the governor’s proposals. Some have told News 8 they expect all of the legislation to pass the Legislature.
Those bills have not been introduced yet.
Meanwhile, several Republicans told News 8 after the governor’s address they won’t come out with a position until they’ve seen what the bills look like.
State Rep. Luke Meerman, R-Coopersville and the co-chair of the bipartisan school safety task force created after the Oxford mass shooting, is against Whitmer’s proposals.
“I can’t go down that path,” Meerman told News 8 on Monday night. “I don’t think that’s the path that keeps us safer. I look around at other states. I look around at other cities that are doing those very things. I don’t see them making a significant difference or really any difference in gun deaths unfortunately.”
When asked about the universal background checks aspect of Whitmer’s proposal, Meerman also pointed to other states who have enacted such legislation.
“Do we see less gun violence?” Meerman said. “Look at New York City, Chicago. Even California, some of the strictest gun control laws we have. Are we seeing less gun violence there in California? I would say unfortunately the answer is no.”
Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, called Whitmer’s proposals “commonsense solutions.”
“No one should be in a position where they’re able to purchase a firearm without being able to clear a background check first,” McCann said. “We have guns falling into hands of wrong people right now.”
“These are very commonsense solutions that I don’t think anybody needs to be afraid of or infringe upon their rights,” he said.
The governor’s second idea, creating safe storage laws, is aimed to prevent kids from getting their hands on guns in the house.
“Safe storage adds another layer of safety into the equation when you have dangerous weapons lying around that could fall into the wrong hands,” McCann said.
“There is liability out there for gun owners now if a young person gets a hold of that gun,” Meerman argued. “Telling people to put in safe gun storage in my mind doesn’t change the picture a lot. The gun owner themselves are already on the hook if a young person gets a hold of that gun. They’ll be charged.”
Whitmer’s last proposal, red flag laws, aims to keeps guns out of the hands of people deemed dangerous.
“It’s temporary,” McCann said. “It’s a court process. There has to be a lot of evidence that someone presents an extreme danger to themselves and to the public. That’s the tool that would be put in the toolbox for our courts to use.”
Meerman argued that red flag laws could lead to a slippery slope.
“I do hope those who are going to vote for the red flag laws considers the rights of the gun owners themselves and how easy is it for someone to make an accusation thereby removing lawfully owned guns from someone’s house,” Meerman said. “I sure would want make sure that gun owner has some kind of mechanism where they can get back in front of a judge in a matter of days and give their side of the story.”
McCann expects Whitmer’s three proposals to pass, saying Democrats were elected on these ideas, and he’d be surprised if they reversed course. Whitmer does not need any Republican votes — they can pass the Senate as long as she doesn’t lose more than one Democrat.
Rep. John Fitzgerald, D-Wyoming, told News 8 after Whitmer’s State of the State Address that he also expects them to pass.
“I think we’ve got the support we need to make that change here in Michigan,” he said.
While Meerman is opposed to Whitmer’s proposals, he’s pushing 14 bills that stem from recommendations by the school safety task force. The measures were originally introduced last June as HB 6319 through HB 6332 but did not gain any traction. Meerman said he hopes the bills will be re-introduced on the House floor by the end of this week or next week.
“I really think we can all kind of come together and say these are important things we need to come and get done,” Meerman said.
Meerman said he’s spoken with the office of House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, and has been encouraged by their conversations.
“This is sustainable change long into the future because it is bipartisan,” Meerman said. “There will be a change back to Republican leadership at some point, and we want to make sure the changes we are making can really stand the test of time.”
One proposed change by the task force is already a reality: a school safety and mental health commission, which works with mental health experts to support students in need. Meerman said he hoped to add a legislator to that commission, which is composed of school officials, law enforcement, mental health experts and parents.
Still to come, they want schools to require more active shooter drills, update their safety plans every three years and plan more security training for staff. They also want to create two new ISD positions for school safety and student mental health.
“How can we find those kids and help them before they get to the point of even thinking of committing violence?” Meerman said.
Additionally, Meerman said they want to put information for OK2SAY, which allows students to confidentially report tips on potential harm directed at students, on their ID cards. Meerman also wants to streamline the reporting process so schools know about threats sooner. Other measures include encouraging more school resource officers.
“What’s also not represented in these bills is the extra mental health support that is in the budget this coming year,” Meerman said. “I’ll be working at that going forward as well. That’s where I think the money comes from these extra counselors in the school, extra programs that helps school identity what’s working and what’s not in the mental health field.”