EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Anyone who wants to buy a gun in Michigan will have to undergo a background check, and gun owners will be required to safely store all firearms and ammunition when around minors under new laws signed Thursday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The signing took place on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, where a gunman killed three students and injured five others two months ago. Flanked by students and gun safety advocates, Whitmer, a graduate of MSU, told the more than 100 people in attendance to “buckle up, we’re going to continue this work.”
“Gun violence is a scourge that is unique to this country,” Whitmer said. “We don’t have to live like this and today, we are showing we are not going to anymore.”
The legislation is part of a sweeping 11-bill gun safety package that was introduced in the weeks following the MSU shooting but was predominately drafted after the 2021 Oxford High School shooting in which four students were killed. The bills saw little movement at the time with Republicans in control of the Legislature.
Gun safety advocates, who poured into the state Capitol on Thursday afternoon, cheered loudly from the gallery above the House chamber as Democrats voted to approve red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders. The Senate passed the measures in March but will need to give final approval on several amendments before the bills are sent to Whitmer. The Democratic governor has said she would sign the package if and when it gets to her desk.
Extreme risk protection orders are intended to temporarily remove guns from people with potentially violent behavior to stop them from hurting themselves or others. An Associated Press investigation last year found that many U.S. states barely use the red flag laws.
Under the legislation signed Thursday, criminal background checks will be required for anyone buying a rifle or shotgun, which had previously only been required for purchases of pistols. The safe storage bills will require gun owners to keep unloaded firearms in a locked storage box or container when it is “reasonably known that a minor is or is likely to be present on the premises.” The laws will go into effect next year.
Safe storage requirements gained momentum after Ethan Crumbley, who was 15 years old at the time, killed four classmates and wounded seven other people at Oxford High School. Afterward, he admitting using a gun that was not locked in a box at home and had been purchased for him by his father. His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter for the acts of Ethan, who has pleaded guilty to terrorism and first-degree murder charges.
Supporters have also said the safe storage requirements will protect teenagers from using firearms in suicide attempts.
West Michigan is not a stranger to gun violence.
“We’ve seen cases in Kalamazoo and Kent,” said Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting. “All over the State of Michigan where children access firearms that their parents are leaving in a nightstand, leaving on a table.”
Martha and Rick Omilian from Plainwell were on hand to watch the signing this morning. Their daughter Maggie was studying at Kalamazoo College when she was murdered by an ex-boyfriend on campus in 1999.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am on the inside I’m just bursting. We’ve been waiting for so many years,” said Martha Omilian of Moms Demand Action.
“The fact that we are here today talking about it with so many people from law enforcement, legislators, shows that this is something that Michiganders support,” added Rick Omilian.
Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller was in Lansing Thursday as Whitmer signed the new laws.
“I decided to be here because this is a monumental piece of legislation that’s really going to help Michigan. It’s going to make our community safer. It’s going to make law enforcement safer,” Fuller said.
Calling gun violence a “uniquely American problem,” Whitmer drew attention to mass shootings across the country during her remarks Thursday, specifically referencing recent shootings in Nashville and Louisville.
Numerous state legislatures across the country are debating ways to address gun violence. A shooting in downtown Louisville this week was the 15th mass killing of the year in the U.S. in which four or more people were killed other than the perpetrator. That is the most during the first 100 days of a calendar year since 2009.
Opponents say the laws are examples of government overreach.
“Everything about this package concerns me,” said state Rep. Angela Rigas, R-Caledonia Township. “This legislation package is an egregious violation of the Fourth and Second Amendment. Should be opposed. Should be adamantly opposed.”
Republicans argue the laws will not be effective in curbing gun violence.
“I think at the end of the day what we are facing then is law abiders being under being under more laws,” said state Rep. Luke Meerman, R-Coopersville.
Meerman is concerned about the cost and paperwork burden expanding background checks will have local law enforcement and says the focus should be on mental health.
“Not gonna keep the people that are out to do harm from keeping, getting a weapon, in my mind.”
The U.S. is sharply divided over what steps, if any, to take in the face of violence that involves firearms. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an expected Republican presidential candidate who visited Michigan last week, signed a bill this month that allows people in his state to carry concealed firearms without a permit, and without training or a background check. It takes effect July 1.