LANSING, Mich. — A 30-year stone wall broke over the weekend in Washington, D.C., as a group of U.S. senators agreed to a tentative deal aimed at addressing gun violence in America. At least ten Senate Republicans say they'll support the plan. With the support of nearly a dozen Republicans and every Senate Democrat, it would be enough to overcome the Senate's filibuster and pass the legislation through to the U.S. House.
The legislation comes a month after 19 children and two teachers were murdered in a Uvalde, Texas classroom and ten grocery shoppers were shot dead at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. In both cases, the18-year-old gunmen legally purchased the firearms used in the massacres.
“I hope in the very near future, Democrats and Republicans can take the real momentum of the past few weeks and translate into something that has escaped this chamber for decades,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY.
While some critics say the bipartisan Senate plan doesn't go far enough, it's the end of a negotiating stalemate that's lasted for decades in American politics.
In Michigan, however, the stalemate continues.
Multiple gun safety bills have been introduced by lawmakers in Michigan's legislature during the current session, beginning in early 2021. Some of the key proposals in the federal gun safety plan have already been introduced in some form in Michigan, including expanded background checks, closing the "boyfriend loophole" (restricting intimate partners with a history of violence from gaining access to firearms), and putting in place resources for state's to implement "red flag" laws (allowing family members to petition courts to temporarily remove firearms from people who have expressed suicidal or homicidal thoughts).
“We see the majority - the vast majority of citizens supporting universal background checks, safe storage. The red flag bills? Everybody wants those,” Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, who represents Oxford, where four high school students were killed in November 2021 school shooting.
Bayer has led the charge in Michigan's Senate to pass gun safety legislation, including safe gun storage. The safe storage effort, which has received vocal support from some survivors of the Oxford shooting, has not left the Senate committee where it was sent prior to the shooting.
None of the gun safety bills that have been introduced in Lansing during the current session have received votes, languishing in committee without hearings.
Bayer says she's seen data that suicide deaths could be reduced by up to 20% in the U.S. with the introduction of red flag laws.
“And we can’t get a hearing on this? Astonishing,” she said.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has promised to give gun safety bills a hearing, but whether the bills will be given the chance to face a vote remains to be seen.
State Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, says he's seeing progress in gun safety negotiations behind the scenes of the legislature, even if it may appear as if nothing has happened.
“There is more agreement than less disagreement," he said. "'Course, that doesn’t always make the news. It might today. But we’re heading in the right direction. It might need to go faster, but we’re headed there.”
Schmidt's Democratic colleague, Sen. Jeff Irwin disagreed, saying he has seen no indication from Senate Republicans that they wanted to move gun safety bills forward, saying he instead sees a reluctance on the other side of the aisle to address gun regulation of any kind.
“Will some of the Republicans move beyond thoughts and prayers? I hope so," said Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. "We really only need a few Republicans in the legislature to stand up and say 'I care about saving kids’ lives, I care about having safer communities. I want to reduce gun violence and I’m willing go to do some of these very minor, sensible gun safety laws that don’t impinge on the Second Amendment.'”
Irwin says Senate Democrats are discussing a new bill that would raise the age of Michigan residents who can buy firearms. While the bill is still in the early stages of development, and Irwin says the legislation could be open to negotiations and adjustments, he anticipates it would raise the firearm-buying age from 18 to 21.
Michigan, along with surrounding states, requires residents to be 18 before they can buy and possess handguns and long guns.
The most substantial effort to address gun violence in Michigan after the deaths of four teenagers in Oxford has come in the form of tackling mental health concerns, particularly in K-12 students.
“To say, 'Oh, if we pass this bill or pass that bill, it’ll cure everything.' That’s not the case, either," said Schmidt. "It’s going to take a shift in our culture.”
Schmidt, who serves as chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12 and Michigan Department of Education, says he's been working to incorporate funding and legislation for mental health supports while also encouraging safe gun ownership.
Schmidt says there will be significant investments in mental health services included in the legislature's upcoming K-12 education budget.
“We’ve expanded the school-based health clinics, we’re going to see more money put there," he said. "You’re going to see a number of programs.”
A request to Shirkey's office for more information about planned gun safety hearings went unanswered on Tuesday.
If similar legislation is passed federally, the gun safety bills in Michigan's Legislature would be superseded. However, since many of Michigan's bills go further than the federal proposals, bill sponsors say they will continue to work on getting them to a vote.
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