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New gun laws enacted in Michigan, AG says they will save lives

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs bills preventing those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses from owning firearms for 8 years.

Note: This story has been edited to correctly reflect the starting date of firearm safety device sales tax-exemptions.

Several new gun restrictions went into effect this week, with supporters saying the legislation will increase public safety.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said in an interview that the laws would “definitively” save lives throughout the state. They were signed into law back in November.

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“In the dozens of other states where these laws are on the books, we know that there’s a significant reduction in the number of firearm injuries and firearm deaths,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 1,500 firearm deaths occurred in Michigan in 2021. Throughout the country, over half of gun deaths in 2021 were suicides, according to Pew Research Center.

While the bills were pushed by legislators in the wake of the Feb. 13, 2023, shooting at Michigan State University that left three students dead, their enactment this week was a coincidence. But Nessel said the bills would still go towards honoring the memory of those lost.

“To commemorate the horrible anniversary of the MSU shooting, I can think of no better way to honor the victims of that event than to have these new gun safety laws put into effect,” she said.

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Extreme risk protection orders

Also known as “red flag laws,” extreme risk protection orders are filed by concerned individuals when they think that someone they know may possess firearms and be a threat to themself or others.

If an order is granted by a judge, the gun owner has 24 hours to surrender their weapons to law enforcement in most cases. An order would typically last for one year, unless an individual appeals the ruling and has it dismissed.

While a handful of Republican legislators voted in favor of other gun control resolutions last year, the party remained opposed to legislation establishing extreme risk protection orders.

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Some conservatives expressed concerns that the list of individuals who could file for a protection order is too broad. Extreme risk protection orders are allowed to be filed by people close to a gun owner, including a spouse, a former spouse, an individual who shares a child with the gun owner, a former romantic partner, a family member, a roommate, a guardian, a law enforcement officer or a health care provider.

Rep. Ken Borton, R-Gaylord, shared concerns about the actual process of police having to take weapons from possibly unstable individuals.

“They’re going to be difficult to enforce,” he said. “It’s going to be tough on law enforcement — it’s going to put law enforcement in some pretty precarious situations, having to go in and enforce these laws.”

Borton said that more attention should be turned towards the state’s mental health system, which he said often fails individuals in need of help.

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Safe storage laws

Another package of laws establishes requirements for safe gun storage in various circumstances, while also laying out significant penalties should a minor access a gun.

The regulations set a requirement for adult gun owners to safely secure their weaponry in spaces where minors are likely to be, including when in their private residence and the homes of others. The legislation also waives the sales tax on most non-decorative secure storage devices from May 13 through the end of 2024.

If a minor obtains an unsecured firearm, penalties for the adult gun owner range from 93 days in jail to 15 years in prison depending on whether the minor injures or kills somebody after obtaining the weapon.

Borton said that he had concerns about gun owners being able to access their weapons quickly enough in dangerous situations.

“There’s a lot of folks, especially in northern Michigan,” he said, “have their guns there for protection, and they need to have the ability to get to them quickly.”

Nessel said she was supportive of the regulations and considers them to be one of the most effective forms of gun control. According a 2005 study, households with securely stored guns saw a 78% reduction in unintentional shootings involving minors.

The law can also work to prevent intentional misuse of firearms, Nessel added.

Nessel said that if this law had been in place earlier, it’s possible that the 2021 Oxford High School shooting could have been prevented. Then-15-year-old student Ethan Crumbley killed four students after being gifted a gun by his parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley.

“If the Crumbley parents had safely and securely stored that weapon,” she said, “[Ethan] wouldn’t have been able to procure that weapon.”

Nessel also said that the law would’ve made it “so much easier” to hold Jennifer and James Crumbley accountable. Both were charged with manslaughter for allegedly enabling their son’s actions.

Those charges carry a much higher standard of proof than the penalties described under these new laws, Nessel said.

“This is going to be strict liability in the future — you fail to safely secure and store your firearm, your child gets a hold of that weapon and kills someone, it’s a 15 year felony,” she said. “If that is not an incentive for people to secure their firearms safely from their minor children, I don’t know what is.”

Ethan Crumbley pled guilty to his charges in 2022 and was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole, while Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty by a jury earlier this year and faces up to 15 years in prison. James Crumbley is set to go to trial in March.

The legislation was passed with the support of several Republican legislators.

Universal background checks

Legislation expanding pistol background checks to all gun purchases and transfers also received some bipartisan support in the Legislature. The law replaces mentions of pistols with references to firearms of any type.

Nessel said the expansion of the background checks would ensure that guns don’t end up in the hands of potentially violent individuals.

“These are people who already are not supposed to own or possess weapons,” she said. “People who have significant serious criminal convictions on their record or people who have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals who already are not supposed to have firearms.”

Borton, who voted against the legislation, said he anticipated issues with gun transfers between friends or relatives.

“There’s some issues on how guns can be passed down in the family that are going to be affected by these bills, and I’m hearing from a lot of my constituents that they’re very concerned that government overreach has just gone too far with this,” he said.

Ownership pause after domestic violence conviction

The final regulation that took effect this week expands restrictions on gun ownership for those convicted of domestic violence.

Under the new law, people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence are prevented from owning a firearm for 8 years following completion of incarceration or probation for the conviction.

Nessel said the regulation, similar to universal background checks, would help keep guns away from those with a violent history.

“If you are somebody who has a history of domestic violence, you have a history of threatening other people, you have a history of assaulting other people, perhaps it’s best for society in general that you can’t easily purchase or possess a firearm,” she said.

Borton said he was concerned that non-violent offenders could also be caught in laws that prohibit gun ownership with certain convictions.

“Say your significant other keyed your car, and they were convicted of that misdemeanor — they could have their firearm taken away for eight years,” he said. “We’re treating non-violent criminals in many cases more severely than we’re treating our violent criminals.”

Borton also said that he continued to hold concerns about governments putting limits on gun ownership in general.

“The gun rights groups across Michigan and across the country — they’re very concerned about any gun rights being taken away,” he said. “They think it’s a slippery slope, and I tend to agree with them. We need to be very, very careful.”

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