Why Gun Safety Laws Finally Have a Chance in Michigan

Why Gun Safety Laws Finally Have a Chance in Michigan

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Supporters of the gun safety legislation held rallies across the state of Michigan this week, including one in Oxford, a northern Detroit suburb that was the site of a November 2021 high school massacre.

Among the speakers were madeline johnson, a survivor of the shooting who saw her best friend die. She spoke about a fear of public speaking that she once had, and how that fear was “ripped from me, along with my childhood, the moment I heard the first round of bullets ringing in my ears.”

“There are much scarier things in this world than giving speeches,” he said, according to an account in The Detroit News. “I no longer have room in my life to be a child, but I’ll gladly sacrifice that, and I’ll gladly talk until you listen, so no one else has to grow up overnight.”

The frustration of Johnson and other advocates of gun legislation was palpable and a reflection of what has happened since the Oxford shooting, when, despite the familiar outpouring of “thoughts and prayers,” the Republicans who controlled the state legislature They refused to act.

But that may be about to change, because the Republicans no longer control the legislature. The Democrats do. In the midterm elections they won majorities in both the Michigan House of Representatives and Senatesomething they haven’t had since the 1980s.

Democratic leaders have made it clear they want to pass a trio of gun laws: universal background checks, new gun storage requirements, and so-called “red flag” laws aimed at keeping firearms out of people’s reach. who pose an immediate threat to others or themselves. Recently re-elected Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has said that these are high priorities for her too.

These reforms are part of a broader schedule that Whitmer and the newly empowered Democrats hope to pass, now that they can finally act. It includes everything from an increase in tax credits for working families to codifying protections for reproductive rights.

And it’s not just Michigan where this type of activity is likely to take place. You’ll hear similar plans from Democratic officials in other states where they have the power to pass laws, especially the other three (Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota) where, as in Michigan, Democrats get that power for the first time in years.

Of course, passing laws is never as easy as promising them. The exercise of going from slogans to details, of translating abstract concepts into statutory details, is inevitably difficult, especially on issues where the opposition is well-financed and well-organized.

But in the current political environment, the Democrats have a big advantage: On many of the key issues they tackle at the state level, they seem to be more in tune with mainstream popular opinion than the Republicans.

Gun safety is one such problem.

Gun law policy has changed

That may seem hard to believe, at least in Michigan, where roughly 4 in 10 adults own at least one gun. But it turns out that all three reforms that the Democrats are pushing are wildly popular, according to polls, including a September poll. EPIC-ARM in which all three gained at least plurality support, and two gained majority support, including among members of the National Rifle Association.

It is not so easy to prove that these measures will have an impact on gun violence, because the solid scientific research on them is hard to find. But there’s a lot of suggestive evidence that these measures may reduce mass shootings, at least at the margins, and perhaps have an even greater effect on suicides.

The prospect of reducing suicides is one reason gun safety laws have long been a priority for rosemary bayer, a veteran Democratic state senator from Michigan. Bayer told me that two people in his life committed suicide: a classmate in high school and, later, a family member of his. “You never forget this, never ever, if it has happened to someone close to you,” he said. “You think, what could I do, what should I have done.”

But Bayer is also reacting to the killings of others, whether in everyday life or in mass shootings like the one in Oxford, which took place in his district.

I spoke to her a few weeks after that. She was shocked by the tragedy, as was everyone in the area, but hopeful that the combination of sympathy and anger could eventually lead to action, especially since Mike Shirkey, leader of the state Senate Republicans, had promised to hold a hearing on the topic. But he never did.

Shirkey could wield that kind of power because Republicans had control over the state legislature, thanks to rigging that protected their majority even if they were out of step with public opinion. Last year was the first election with districts drawn by a nonpartisan commission. Not coincidentally, this is the first time in decades that the Democrats have regained control.

The majorities are not large, to be clear, just a handful of seats. And the opposition, even to his modest proposals on gun regulation, is sure to be fierce. But support for these measures is pretty strong, according to EPIC-MRA president Bernie Porn. If anything, it’s stronger than it was a few years ago, given all the recent attention to mass school shootings.

“It may be possible that a robust debate could cause many of the tried proposals to lose support, but I think that would only happen if advocates of gun safety laws are weak in their efforts to counter messaging about the issues.” said Porn. in an email.

Republicans will no longer be able to dodge votes

Democratic State Senator Mallory Mc Morrowwho is the Majority Leader and a long-time supporter of these proposals, said she, too, thinks gun policy is changing.

“The fact that this is affecting our own backyard in significant ways, from the Oxford high school shooting to just a series of everyday incidents of gun violence that occurred here in Michigan, I think public opinion on this issue has changed and changed significantly,” McMorrow said. to me.

McMorrow noted that the measures she and other Democrats are proposing have the support of some GOP officials at the local level, which will make it difficult for opponents to portray their efforts as purely partisan. “We’ve had some local Republican partners in the past, we just haven’t been able to get this across the line,” she said.

In the past, Republican leaders have blocked bills from going through committee or reaching the floor in part to avoid members having to vote on them. Lawmakers will now have to state their positions, and Bayer believes at least some Republicans will think twice before voting no on these widely popular measures.

“This is the first time that they are really going to have to speak for themselves,” Bayer said. And if these Republicans don’t support the proposals, they will risk backlash from a majority of Michigan voters, not to mention activists like Maddie Johnson, whose voices and personal stories have already made such an impression.

If you or someone you know needs help, please dial 988 or call 1-800-273-8255 for help. National Suicide Prevention Line. You can also get text message support by visiting suicide prevention lifeline.org/chat. Outside the US, please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources

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