This is the moment each year when non-profit organizations look back at developments and accomplishments over the past twelve months. In Michigan, the tragic school shooting in Oxford is fresh in our minds and makes it painful to look back four weeks, let alone twelve months. Even if we push our gaze farther into the past, there is little to see that should make us feel satisfied. It is true that some communities are taking a closer look at funding and implementing violence intervention programs. However, those programs do not address many important issues in the realm of gun violence, such as suicides, children’s access to firearms, and the connection between firearms and homicides in the context of domestic violence.
What predominates when we look in the rearview mirror? A record setting pace of gun purchases. An increase in shootings. An expansion of untraceable firearms assembled with parts purchased on the internet. And no movement in our state—or in Congress–toward even the most modest and sensible gun regulations. We need to remember the past year because it defines our current situation. At this moment, however, it makes more sense to focus on the future.
The biggest event in recent days is the announcement of the newly defined legislative districts that will shape competition for seats in our state’s House of Representatives and Senate as well as in Congress. Because Michigan’s new districts were drawn by a citizens’ commission rather than by one political party, commentators expect competitive races for many seats as well as a new sense of uncertainty about which party will win control of the state legislature. These developments are important because they may—just maybe—set the stage for breaking free from the blockade that currently prevents sensible proposals from moving beyond the initial presentation stage to actual consideration by the legislature.
For inspiration, we need to look to the Virginia elections in November 2019 that brought both chambers of the legislature into alignment with a governor who supported sensible gun laws. As a result of that alignment, Virginia enacted a list of laws in 2020 intended to increase gun safety while respecting the legal definition of Second Amendment rights. These laws included:
- A requirement that gun owners must report that a firearm has been lost or stolen.
- Authority for cities and counties to ban guns from government buildings, public parks, and outdoor events.
- Universal background checks, including private sales or sales at gun shows that are currently outside federal background check requirements.
- Extreme risk protection orders that authorize judges to temporarily remove someone’s firearms if law enforcement officers provide evidence that the individual poses a danger to themselves or others.
- Penalties for gun owners who recklessly leave loaded firearms accessible to children.
Are these the laws that Michigan needs? We cannot know for sure unless and until we have a legislature that is willing to discuss different policies, examine research evidence about gun violence, and evaluate the experiences of other states that have implemented laws different than our own. The November 2022 elections create an entirely new opportunity to elect legislators who take seriously the risks and harms of gun violence across all dimensions of this tragic problem.
Individuals throughout the state are currently making decisions about whether they will run for the state legislature or Congress in 2022. Very soon we will know the identities of the announced candidates in each of the newly drawn districts. It is incumbent upon members of the public to ask these candidates where they stand on policies intended to reduce the risks and harms of gun violence. Voters must also make known the policies that they would like to see. Moreover, if we are to move out of our current rut of inaction on gun violence at the very moment that the problem grows all around us, voters must make candidates aware that attention to gun violence will be an important factor in deciding whom to elect to office. We need policy action at both the state and federal level.
What about the role of the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence?
We want to be a source of reliable, evidence-based information about policies that have been shown to reduce risk and harm. We need your support to enable us to produce informative publications that can educate the public as well as those who are running for elective office. Without research-based information, discussions of gun policy are too often based on ideology, beliefs, and misperceptions. 2022 presents our opportunity to make a difference in ways that can reduce injuries, suicides, accidental shootings, and homicides. Please play your role as an engaged citizen. And please give us any support that you can as we seek to be a source of important information that can generate discussion and encourage action by policy makers.
Christopher E. Smith, J.D., Ph.D.
MCPGV Board President