I have been waiting for the flood of information about last week’s elections to subside so that we can pause for a moment and assess where we stand with efforts to reduce gun violence. Obviously, the context of law and policy making in Michigan will change in 2023. Because of the shift in the partisan composition of the state legislature, it appears that we have alignment among key decision makers that should lead to committee hearings about and actual votes on various gun safety proposals. This does not mean that every member of the new majority in the legislature will share the same views about each proposed bill. It does not automatically guarantee that any specific proposals will be enacted. It should mean, however, that there will finally be hearings scheduled on gun safety bills so that such bills can receive genuine consideration.
What kinds of gun safety laws are likely to be proposed and considered? In recent years, the following ideas have been embodied in bills that were proposed in the Michigan legislature and many of them were proposed by legislators who will be part of the new legislative majority in 2023:
- Impose penalties on gun owners who fail to safely store firearms and thereby prevent harm to children and others.
- Reporting requirements when firearms are stolen.
- Prohibit civilian-carried firearms at the state Capitol building. Currently, firearms openly carried by civilians are banned, but not licensed concealed-carry firearms.
- Authorize judges to temporarily remove firearms from people when there is evidence that they pose a significant risk of harm to themselves or others.
- Require a waiting period for firearms purchases.
- Prohibit “high-capacity” ammunition magazines, defined as those that can carry more than 10 bullets, with provisions for current owners of such magazines to keep possession if they report their ownership to law enforcement authorities.
- Require trigger locks and gun safety information to be included in every firearms sale.
I have no predictions about which of these proposals will be re-introduced in 2023, what other gun safety proposals may emerge, or what bills may ultimately be enacted. I merely note that it seems certain that gun safety proposals will no longer be blocked from being discussed at committee hearings, as has been the case for a number of years in the recent past.
In my mind, the most relevant reference point for Michiganders is the similar political shift that occurred under the prior Virginia governor after that commonwealth’s 2019 elections. Those elections created an alignment between the governor and both chambers of the legislature. Very quickly in 2020, the pent-up demand for action on gun safety led to enactment of several laws that had previously been blocked. Those laws included (Albiges, 2020):
- Requirements to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours after the gun was discovered to be missing.
- Authorization for cities and counties to create certain gun safety laws that were more restrictive than state laws.
- Universal background checks, including private sales and gun show sales that do not currently fall under the federal background check law.
- Authority for judges to issue a 14-day “emergency substantial risk order” when there is evidence that someone poses a danger to themselves and others.
- Requirement for guns to be locked away in homes where childcare services are provided.
- Penalties for leaving firearms accessible to children.
- A ban on devices that enable semi-automatic weapons to fire as automatic weapons.
- Requirement that people subject to personal protection orders surrender their firearms within 48 hours.
- Banning civilian carried firearms on state capitol grounds (In Michigan, only openly-carried firearms are banned and that is just within the Capitol building itself).
The next step for Michiganders? Think about what laws you believe are worthy of consideration in order to increase gun safety in our state. Perhaps you agree—or disagree—with the prior Michigan proposals listed above or the Virginia laws from 2020. Perhaps you have additional ideas for what laws are needed. In any case, there is now an opportunity to contact those legislators who will be sworn into office in January 2023 to let them know what you would like to see. No doubt, they are already being flooded with suggestions and requests from lobbyists and members of the public about a variety of different policy issues. We have waited a long time to see gun safety proposals considered. Thus, if you want the new legislators to make this issue a priority, now is the time to let them know.
Voters created the opportunity for new laws to be considered. Voters must now tell legislators which laws are most necessary and beneficial for our state.
Christopher E. Smith, J.D., Ph.D.
MCPGV Board President
Mary Albiges, “These 10 New Virginia Gun Laws Go Into Effect Next Week,” Richmond Virginian-Pilot, June 27, 2020 (pilotonline.com)