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Michigan Senate will be ‘taking action soon’ on gun legislation after MSU shooting, majority leader says

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer listens to reporters during a news conference on Nov. 7, 2022, in East Lansing, Michigan. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/TNS)

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks said the Michigan Senate will be “taking action soon” on gun control measures that include, at a minimum, safe storage laws, tougher universal background checks and red flag laws.

Brinks, a Grand Rapids Democrat whose daughter is a Michigan State University student, said she watched news of Monday night’s deadly shooting unfold with “dread and horror” in a campus community “where they should feel safe.”

“But today, I’m more than just a mom,” Brinks said in a news conference Tuesday. “And I know we have a responsibility.

“… We will be introducing common-sense legislation and we are prepared to get the job done,” Brinks said of the Senate’s new Democratic majority.

Brinks comments came hours after a gunman killed three students and wounded five others on the campus of Michigan State University and about 15 months after four students were killed in a shooting at Oxford High School.

The shootings at Michigan State on Monday night forced students to shelter in place and brought dozens of police and ambulances to the East Lansing campus. The suspect, Anthony McRae, was eventually located off campus and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said MSU police Interim Deputy Chief Chris Rozman.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, an MSU alumna, on Tuesday urged action to curb gun violence, concluding her remarks to media by saying, “We must act and we will.” Whitmer called the issue of gun violence a “uniquely American problem.”

“We’re all broken by an all-too-familiar feeling,” Whitmer said in a Tuesday morning news conference. “Another place that is supposed to be about community and togetherness shattered by bullets and bloodshed.”

House Speaker Joe Tate, a Detroit Democrat and former MSU football team captain, said the people who elected lawmakers “have no patience for inaction.”

“We can continue to debate the reasons for gun violence in America, or we can act,” Tate said Tuesday in a statement. “We cannot continue to do the same thing over and over again and hope for a different outcome. … I have no understanding left for those in a position to effect change who are unwilling to act.”

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has previously called for universal background check requirements for people who want to buy firearms, a safe storage standard for guns in the home and “extreme risk” protection orders, also known as a red flag law, to allow guns to be taken away from people deemed a risk to themselves and others.

After the House and Senate canceled Tuesday’s session, the House planned to meet Wednesday while the Senate canceled its Wednesday session again for the upper chamber. The Capitol is about 4 miles from Berkey Hall and the Union, where the suspected gunman initially opened fire.

Enforcement of current laws questioned

McRae, according to court records, took a plea deal in 2019 that allowed him to plead down from carrying a concealed pistol without a concealed carry permit, a five-year felony, to possession of a loaded firearm in a vehicle, a two-year high court misdemeanor. He served 18 months of probation, which he completed in May 2021.

Under the high court misdemeanor charge, McRae was able to legally own and possess a gun after probation, Ingham County Prosecutor John Dewane said. Information was not yet available on whether the firearms used Monday were registered or whether McRae held a valid concealed pistol license.

Dewane argued the sentencing guidelines for either charge likely would have led to a sentencing recommendation that fell short of jail or prison. But McRae’s plea deal prompted some to call for better enforcement of existing firearm laws before pushing for additional regulation.

Great Lakes Gun Rights criticized the immediate push for additional gun regulation and urged Michigan residents to demand their lawmakers “oppose all gun control efforts.”

“Handgun registration laws and ‘gun-free’ zones didn’t stop this evil madman, and they won’t stop another one in the future,” said Brenden Boudreau, executive director for Great Lakes Gun Rights. “More gun control in Michigan will leave law-abiding citizens helpless when they need to defend themselves and others.”

Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township, said his “heart breaks” for the victims and families. Nesbitt said schools need to continue to be made safer and improvements should be made to mental health screening and care.

He also stressed that current laws should be enforced, an apparent reference to McRae’s past plea deal and what Nesbitt called “soft-on-crime prosecutors.”

“I am willing to work with anyone who wants to find solutions that will better protect our children,” Nesbitt said. “But we have to be honest with one another — proposing bills that do not address the root causes of this epidemic just to do something, is just as bad as doing nothing.”

Gun regulation policy prepped

Whitmer, a Democrat, has previously called for universal background check requirements for people who want to buy firearms, a safe storage standard for guns in the home and “extreme risk” protection orders, also known as a red flag law, to allow guns to be taken away from people deemed a risk to themselves and others. Gun rights advocates have countered that red flag laws fail to deliver on what advocates promised they would do and don’t get to the core of the problem.

Democrats called for similar reforms after the 2021 killing of four students at Michigan’s Oxford High School. However, Republicans who controlled the House and Senate blocked votes on the measures.

Democrats took control of the state Legislature in January for the first time in nearly four decades and have suggested they will emphasize the gun-related policies this term.

“We were already prepared to introduce legislation on this topic because, unfortunately, this is not a unique situation,” said Brinks, noting safe storage, red flag laws and “meaningful” universal background checks were first on the docket. “We will start there and you will see those bills introduced.”

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Keego Harbor, whose district included Oxford High School at the time of the 2021 shooting, said officials have been working in violence intervention programs and with stakeholders such as law enforcement, medical professionals, prosecutors and school administrators to shape legislation.

But Bayer acknowledged officials don’t have enough information yet about what transpired at MSU to say “whether any specific legislation or set of legislation would have prevented it.”

“It’s almost certainly true that if we’re going to change the trajectory here — what we’re seeing with gun violence last night and Oxford and every day in some of our communities around this state — we need legislation” with various solutions, Bayer said.

Bayer said she’s hopeful for Republican support for common sense measures and has received some indications of as much.

House Minority Leader Matt Hall on Tuesday noted that a bipartisan school safety task formed in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting made several recommendations to strengthen school safety and support mental health efforts, largely specific to K-12 schools. Several of the recommendations have been introduced as bills.

“Just as the School Safety Task Force patiently researched complex issues and prepared solutions for school safety, we need to thoughtfully plan to protect our college campuses and every Michigan community,” the Richland Township Republican said in a statement Tuesday.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said the events at Michigan State University were “a tragedy for the entire state of Michigan.”

“I want to thank everyone in law enforcement who worked to secure the campus and protect the community,” Nessel said. “I am hopeful that the investigation reveals how we can better protect our children, our neighbors and all those who call Michigan home.”


(c) 2023 The Detroit News

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