Capital News Service

Gun safety response divided after Oxford shootings

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Amidst growing cries for stricter gun laws after the deadly Oxford High School shooting late last year, a new report details the impact of gun violence in Michigan, including disproportionate gun homicide rates among Black residents and rising suicide rates involving guns.

The report from the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan progressive-leaning policy institute in Washington D.C., laid out six trends in the state and its recommendations to address them.

Among those trends, homicide rates among African Americans, nonfatal injuries involving guns and suicide rates, including gun-related suicides by military veterans, were listed at the top. Other trends involved women killed by intimate partners using guns, stolen guns and armed extremists. 

“It’s very clear the Second Amendment gives a person a right to own a gun in their home, but that doesn’t mean that it is unlimited,” said Eugenio Weigend, an author of the report. 

Weigend, who is the director of the institute’s gun violence prevention initiative, said Michigan has already taken good initial steps toward safe gun policies, including permit-to-purchase laws for handguns and the requirement to report stolen guns. 

He said one move legislators can make next is expanding community-based intervention programs.

Programs like those, Weigend said, can address the difference in Michigan homicide rates involving Black residents compared to other residents. The report found that Black residents make up 15% of the state’s population, but account for 79% of gun homicide victims. 

Weigend said such programs are important because they are started by and made for community members. 

“Not all cities suffer the same circumstances or have the same dynamics, so what I like about these programs is that they’re tailor-made for each community,” he said.

Other solutions Weigend suggested have already been introduced by Democratic senators. 

Known as “red flag” legislation, bills allowing extreme risk protection orders have been introduced. The bills would let judges order the seizure of guns from individuals if there is “reasonable cause” they are a danger to themselves or others.

Additional Democratic legislation pending, but likely to die in the Republican-controlled Senate Government Operations Committee, would require owners to secure their firearms with a locking device or store them in a locked box or container to prevent minors from having access. Failure to do so would be a crime. 

Meanwhile, legislation proposed by Republican senators last summer would repeal the requirement that gun owners obtain and carry a concealed pistol license. 

Sponsors of those bills, which also sit in the Government Operations Committee, are Sens. Lana Theis of Brighton, Jon Bumstead of Newaygo, Roger Victory of Georgetown Township, Aric Nesbitt of Lawton, Tom Barrett of Potterville, Dale Zorn of Ida and Kevin Daley of Lum.

Bishop Bonnie Perry of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, headquartered in Detroit, said she hopes lawmakers will pass the Democrat-proposed measures so that schoolchildren are further protected. 

“I’m a person of faith who’s filled with hope,” Perry said. “These are good folks, and I think good folks don’t want to see any more of our children put at risk.” 

Perry joined Oxford shooting survivors to speak at the inaugural press conference of End Gun Violence Michigan, a coalition urging lawmakers to pass gun restrictions. Four students died and six students and one teacher were injured in the November shooting rampage at the high school.

Steven Dulan, an adjunct professor of firearms law at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, said the latest measures proposed by Senate Democrats would be ineffective and create more “landmines an innocent gun owner can find himself stepping on.” 

“For those of us who have this (concealed pistol) license and for most gun owners in Michigan — there are millions of us — we’re already careful with our guns, especially if we’re in households with kids,” said Dulan, an East Lansing attorney who is also a board member of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners. 

“We reject the stigmatization of guns and gun owners when other things are far more dangerous to children. If people really cared about child welfare, they’d be banning trampolines.” 

The Center for American Progress report cited an increase in gun suicides from 2005-19. In 2018, suicide rates among veterans involving a gun were 2.3 times higher than the entire state rate and had increased by 20% from 2014-18. 

Last year, the state joined the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in taking the Governor’s Challenge, a national initiative to reduce veterans’ suicide rates and increase their access to services and support. 

Jennifer Lamb, the strategic outreach manager for the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, said suicide is impulsive. To deter it from happening, she said there needs to be space between the time of a suicidal thought and an action. 

When it comes to guns, Lamb said some ways the agency tries to prevent suicide among veterans includes promoting gun locks and partnering with Hold My Guns, an organization that provides owners the option to store their weapons away from their homes during times of mental health crises. 

Sponsors of the Democratic gun control legislation are Sens. Rosemary Bayer of Beverly Hills, Sean McCann of Kalamazoo, Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids, Jim Ananich of Flint, Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor, Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak, Dayna Polehanki of Livonia, Curtis Hertel of East Lansing, Paul Wojno of Warren, Erika Geiss of Taylor, Jeremy Moss of Southfield and Marshall Bullock II, Stephanie Chang, Adam Hollier and Betty Jean Alexander of Detroit.

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