'Red flag' laws could get Senate hearing

Oct 25, 2019

A package of bills in the state house could enact so-called “red-flag laws” that allow law enforcement to take away firearms from people who could be a risk to themselves or others. 

The legislation has been sitting in the senate since February but now bill sponsors say they have been promised a hearing.

Similar laws have or will soon be enacted in 18 other states including Illinois and Connecticut. The laws have been posited as way to reduce mass shootings, domestic violence and suicide.

According to a 2018 study, red flag laws are responsible for a 14 percent decline in firearm suicides in Connecticut and a 7 percent decline in Indiana. 

Democratic State Sen. Rosemary Bayer introduced the measure. She says the bills would allow family members, roommates or law enforcement to issue an “extreme risk protection order” to have an individual's firearms removed.

“Sixty percent of firearm deaths in Michigan are suicide. This is going to directly impact that,” she says. 

Bayer adds that she wants to change the conversation around gun violence. 

“We need to think of gun violence, injury and death as a public health crisis,” she says.

The bills include penalties for false reporting and requirements for clear evidence that a person is a threat to themselves or others. 

Democratic State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, another sponsor on the legislation, says one of her constituents told her about how difficult it was to keep their father from getting access to a firearm. 

“Her family tried to go to gun shops in the area to show pictures of her father and say ‘please don’t let him buy a gun he’s been talking about committing suicide’ and they basically told her ‘there’s nothing that would stop us.’ So he bought a gun and killed himself.”

McMorrow says evidence that a person is a danger to themselves or others needs to be clear. 

“For example, if we’re thinking about a mass shooting situation if you have somebody who is taking pictures of a school, making threats that are documented on the internet, and showing a picture of firearms or ammunition that they’ve recently purchased that’s enough to say you know what we’ve got to take these firearms away and frankly we should get this individual some help,” she says.

Senators Bayer and McMorrow say Majority Leader Mike Shirkey has promised the bills will get a hearing. 

The Majority Leader could not be reached for comment. 

Todd Mutchler is with the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. He says the association has spoken to lawmakers about some of their concerns — including police safety and liability. 

“If an officer goes into a home and removes three weapons and maybe there was a fourth weapon that wasn’t known about and a crime was committed what sort of liability does that leave for the officers that were involved with that,” he says.

Mutchler says the legislation could also provide a legal framework for something that police are already doing. 

“It’s a practice that has taken place,” he says. “Long before we’ve seen mass shootings. It’s not uncommon. Particularly in domestic situations where there is shared ownership or agreement.”

According to Mutchler there are some departments that may even have waiver forms to allow them to remove firearms from a home. 

Mutcheler says the association has not taken a position on the bills because they are still in the process of being finalized. 

A spokesperson for the Michigan State Police said they have “concerns with the bills as written."