LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Democrats took their first steps in passing a sweeping 11-bill gun safety package Thursday as red flag laws and requirements for safe storage and universal background checks all cleared the Senate along party lines.
Two school mass shootings in 15 months, including last month’s Michigan State University shooting that took place less than four miles from the state Capitol, have pushed Democrats to act quickly in bringing gun reform to the state.
“After years of things just getting worse, we are finally taking action to begin the process of making our state safer. Making our kids, our families, all the people of Michigan safer today,” Democratic state Sen. Rosemary Bayer said.
Senators approved a bulk of the package on a 20-17 party line vote, sending it to the Democratic-led House where it can be brought up as early as next week. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said that she will sign the legislation.
Michigan law requires someone buying firearms such as rifles or shotguns to be 18 years or older and at least 21 years old to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed dealer. Certain licenses allow 18-year-olds to purchase handguns from private sellers.
Legislation passed Thursday would require anyone purchasing a rifle or shotgun to undergo a background check, which is currently only required for handgun purchases, and to register for any firearm purchase. It would also implement safe storage laws, which would create “penalties for storing or leaving a firearm where it may be accessed by a minor.”
Republicans were most vocal on the Senate floor Thursday in opposing red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders. Red flag laws are intended to temporarily remove guns from people with potentially violent behavior and prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
Republican state Sen. Joseph Bellino called the red flag bill “severely flawed” and said the package would not have stopped the MSU shooting.
“They will give people a sense of false security, all while infringing on everyone’s right to own a firearm to hunt, or even defend themselves,” Bellino said.
The bills were introduced in the days following a mass shooting at MSU where 43-year-old Anthony McRae, armed with two handguns and dozens of rounds of ammunition, terrorized the East Lansing campus for four hours as students were ordered to shelter in place.
Students killed in the shooting were Arielle Anderson, 19; Brian Fraser, 20; and Alexandria Verner, 20, all of suburban Detroit.
Much of the package was crafted by Democrats nearly 15 months ago following a shooting at Oxford High School but the bills saw little movement with Republicans controlling the House and Senate.
Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011 in an assassination attempt, looked on to the Senate floor from the gallery as the legislation was approved Thursday. The day prior, Giffords and other Democratic leaders, including U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Debbie Dingell, rallied alongside MSU students at the state Capitol as lawmakers promised the 11-bill package is only the beginning of gun reform in the state.
“We know that one or even 11 bills are not going to be the entire solution,” Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks said Thursday. “While the opposition will use that as an excuse to do nothing, we are using that as fuel to start taking steps now.”
Mass shootings across the U.S. in recent years seem to have widened the political divide on gun ownership. In Democratic-led states with restrictive gun laws, elected officials have responded to home-state tragedies by enacting and proposing even more limits on guns. In many states with Republican-led legislatures, the shootings appear unlikely to prompt any new restrictions this year, reflecting a belief that violent people, not their possession of weapons, is the problem.
President Joe Biden said earlier this week that he’d signed an executive order aimed at stiffening background checks to buy guns, promoting more secure firearms storage and ensuring law enforcement agencies get more out of a bipartisan gun control law enacted last summer