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Guns in the News: Sobering Reminders and Protective Actions

With news media coverage dominated by so many important developments concerning COVID, economic relief for struggling Americans, and investigations of the domestic terrorists’ attack on the U.S. Capitol, it can be difficult to take note of less prominent reports.  Yet, we know from experience that stories related to the continuing problems of gun violence will appear—and disappear—each and every week.  Let’s take note of a few recent news reports that remind us of our country’s continuing challenge:

The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) recently reported that Michigan experienced a jump of nearly 50 percent in mass shootings in 2020 as compared to 2019.  The GVA defines “mass shootings” as those in which four or more people are injured or killed by gunfire in one incident.  It is interesting to note that there are other entities that track “mass shootings” by focusing on single events that produce four or more deaths.  While much broader, the GVA definition reminds us not to ignore the catastrophic physical and psychological harm that may be experienced by people who are wounded but survive after being shot.

According to the GVA report, 20 mass shootings in Michigan in 2020 led to 19 deaths and 72 people injured compared to nine mass shootings in 2019 that killed eight and injured 35 (della Cava and Stucka, 2021). It is impossible to pinpoint a cause for this jump in mass shootings, but analysts are obviously concerned about the impact of the pandemic shutdown on individuals’ sense of isolation, pessimism, and despair. Another potential factor: 2020 saw a record-setting pace of gun sales, with 40 percent more gun background checks than the previous year as people seemed to arm themselves amid political polarization, certain leaders’ barely disguised calls for revolt, and attendant effects for neighbors fearing neighbors. With millions of additional firearms in circulation at an especially difficult moment for American society, it is difficult not to wonder whether the surge in purchases may contribute to current problems—or continuing harms in the future.

12-29-20

A national news story highlighted Michigan—and not in a good way—concerning firearms possession and restraining orders obtained by people who face specific threats, especially from their current or former intimate partners. In describing Michigan as one of 13 states in which firearms prohibitions are not automatically included when judges grant protective orders, the article featured the case of a young woman who was killed by a former boyfriend against whom she was granted an order. The judge who granted the order did not use his discretion to include a prohibition on gun possession. Efforts to close this loophole have previously been presented in both Congress and the Michigan legislature, and observers are watching to see whether such a proposal can now move forward through Congress with a new presidential administration and altered composition of the U.S. Senate (Givens, 2021).

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that her office had submitted written arguments to the Michigan Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan’s authority to continue its ban on citizen-carried firearms on university property.  The announcement served as a reminder that litigation efforts continue throughout the country seeking to strike down restrictions on firearms sales, possession, and carrying (Stebbins, 2021).  

The foregoing stories remind us of the nature of gun violence problems and continuing actions, such as surges in gun sales and litigation to expand gun-carrying opportunities, that may increase the risks of gun violence.  Yet, there is also news about efforts that may help to limit those risks. For example, on March 1st, Congressman Mike Thompson from California introduced a new bill for consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives: H.R. 8—The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021.  The proposal seeks to require background checks for nearly all sales of firearms as current laws leave open loopholes for private sales and gun shows.  Republican Congressman Fred Upton from southwest Michigan is one of the original co-sponsors of the bill.  His support, along with that of two other Republican co-sponsors, is what gives the bill its “bipartisan” element in the title.  

There are 128 Democratic co-sponsors, including five from Michigan:  Representatives Dan Kildee, Brenda Lawrence, Andy Levin, Haley Stevens, and Rashida Tlaib.  Advocacy groups, such as Everytown for Gun Safety, are advising people to look at the list of co-sponsors and urge other members of the House to join the list by co-sponsoring the bill.  You can track the bill’s progress in the U.S. House of Representatives at the website Congress.gov.  

It is admittedly difficult to stay up to date on all developments affecting the risks and harms of gun violence.  However, the nature of issues affecting our state and nation make continuing vigilance and engagement quite essential.

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Christopher E. Smith, J.D., Ph.D.
MCPGV Board President

SOURCES:

della Cava, Marco, and Mike Stucka, “Mass Shootings Rise in State as Nation Faces Record High,” Detroit Free Press, February 27, 2021.

Givens, Ann. “ ‘He Killed My Baby’: Michigan Woman ‘Did Everything Right’ to Protect Herself From Ex,” Detroit Free Press, January 26, 2021.

Stebbins, Laina. “Nessel Backs U of M Firearm Ban Before Mich. Supreme Court,” Michigan Advance, March 2, 2021.

GUNS DON'T BELONG IN THE CAPITOL.

The Michigan Capitol Commission voted unanimously to support a limited prohibition on citizen-carried firearms inside the state Capitol. However, this ban does not apply to the Capitol grounds or to individuals with conceal carry permits. While an important first step, the Capitol Commission has a long way to go. Show your support and urge your representatives to ban all citizen firearms on the Capitol grounds!

Let’s make our voices heard and put an end to this dangerous practice!

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