GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A series of bills passed in the Michigan Legislature intended to address gun violence may increase the administrative burden on law enforcement agencies across the state, per a News 8 analysis of the bills’ wording, though one of the bill’s sponsors insists the impact will be limited.
Under current Michigan law regulating gun purchases, anyone who wants to buy a pistol from a seller who is not a federally licensed firearm dealer first must obtain a pistol purchase license from their local law enforcement agency, unless the buyer holds a valid Michigan concealed pistol license. The law enforcement agency conducts a criminal background check on the buyer. After the sale is completed, the buyer must return the pistol purchase license to the law enforcement agency with information on the seller and the firearm purchased. Once filled out, the form is referred to as the pistol purchase record.
If a resident buys a pistol from a federal licensed dealer, referred to as an FFL, the dealer conducts the background check through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System and provides a pistol purchase record to the buyer, who must then take it to local law enforcement to register the handgun.
Under current law, the purchase license and purchase record only apply to pistols and not to long guns; that is, rifles or shotguns.
Senate Bill 76 and House Bill 4138, which have passed their respective chambers, eliminate the section in the current law that allows the FFLs to conduct the Michigan required background checks for pistols. The new law would require local police agencies to conduct background checks before a buyer could obtain a pistol purchase license. FFL retailers would still conduct NICS background checks on all firearm purchases as required by federal law.
The bills also add required purchase licenses for long guns.
The firearm purchase license exemption for gun purchases made by CPL holders would still apply.
If the measures are signed into law, criminal background checks for non-CPL pistol sales in Michigan would have to be conducted by local police or county sheriff’s departments.
Hundreds of thousands of such checks are run each year. The number of NICS background checks for handgun purchases in Michigan rose from 126,694 in 2019, pre-pandemic, to 407,676 in 2020, 346,308 in 2021 and 270,152 in 2022.
“There will be more work for a local police department, sheriff’s offices going forward because there will be this added requirement for these private sales and make sure these guns are going through a background check and a license,” state Sen. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, one of the sponsors of S.B. 76, told News 8’s Rick Albin Wednesday. “They will have to do some of that.”
Hertel, however, rejected the notion that the proposed laws would be a major increase in the workload for law enforcement offices.
“Nothing will change for you if you are buying a gun today from a federally licensed gun dealer,” said Hertel. “You’ll walk in. They’ll do the background check that they have always done.”
Contacted by News 8 for comment, the National Rifle Association disagreed, saying that’s not what the language of the bills says.
“If this bill passes as written, handgun buyers will not be able to go to a gun store, undergo a background check, and purchase that handgun. Instead, they’ll first have to go to a law enforcement agency and obtain a permit to purchase — pay an additional fee and undergo their first background check” Amy Hunter of the NRA said. “If permitted, they then go to a gun store and undergo a second background check before purchasing the gun.”
“This law was badly written and will have consequences that are duplicative, burdensome on law-abiding gun buyers and will overwhelm law enforcement agencies,” Hunter added.
Under existing law, the percentage of background checks run by the sheriff’s offices and police departments is small.
In Newaygo County, of the 2,088 pistol purchase records recorded by the sheriff’s office in 2022, the sheriff’s office conducted only 228 of the background checks. The majority were performed by FFLs. The Newaygo County Sheriff’s Office only has three administrative staff members to process the records.
The numbers are similar in Montcalm County. In 2022, the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office’s three administrative employees processed 328 background checks for the 2768 total pistol sales for the year. Firearm retailers conducted the remainder.
“Right now, we’re about where we can handle it,” Montcalm County Sheriff Mike Williams told News 8.
While he did not know all the details of the proposed law, he said that “it’s likely going to increase the checks we have to do.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office processed 11,228 pistol sales records in 2022, up from 7,932 in 2019. Of the 11,228 pistol sales record processed last year, the sheriff’s office conducted background checks on 947. The remaining 10,281 were conducted through firearm retailers.
The two bills would allow law enforcement agencies to charge $10 per background check to pay for some of the administrative costs.
News 8 asked Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, how the Legislature will fund the increase in workload.
“We would provide some support for that in terms of the budget item, I think. Make sure we are providing resources to ensure that we can implement the law,” said Brinks.
She would not elaborate on what level of funding would be provided.
The state House and Senate must approve each other chamber’s version of the background check expansion before they can be sent to the governor, who is expected to sign the measure into law, so there may still be changes to the language.