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Michigan governor signs ‘red flag’ law three months after MSU shooting


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DETROIT, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a series of bills into law Monday that will keep firearms away from people who pose an imminent threat in the wake of the recent Michigan State University mass shooting that left three students dead and five others injured.

The legislation follows Democratic lawmakers’ call for more gun restrictions in an attempt to reduce gun violence across the state.

With Whitmer’s signature on Senate Bill 83, Michigan joins a list of more than a dozen states with so-called “red flag” laws, also sometimes called “extreme risk protection orders.” Michigan is the second state to implement a red flag law in less than a week, following Minnesota. New Mexico was previously the last state to pass a red flag law, in 2020.

Michigan’s legislation won’t go into effect immediately because it did not garner any Republican support in the state Legislature. Instead, the law is slated to take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.

It will allow law enforcement, family members, health care professionals and others to petition a judge to remove firearms from those they believe are a risk to themselves or others.

Whitmer said the legislation would help curb gun violence, including firearm suicides and mass shootings. Many perpetrators of gun violence show “warning signs,” Whitmer said. And now law enforcement and courts have a tool to intervene, she said.

“We must act because week after week in America we see grim, familiar headlines,” Whitmer said at a bill signing ceremony flanked by gun safety advocates including former Arizona Congresswoman and gun violence survivor Gabby Giffords. “The shooters from Oxford and MSU both showed concerning behavior beforehand.”

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Democrats’ red flag bills passed along party lines. During the debate over the bills, GOP lawmakers argued the legislation would not have stopped the Feb. 13 shooting at Michigan State University’s campus.

The shooting prompted Democrats to reintroduce gun safety proposals that stalled in the previous GOP-led Legislature. Some suggested that they might have prevented the rampage at Michigan State.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Mallory McMorrow said the red flag law will help prevent future tragedies involving guns. “These laws, more than anything else, will buy time. Time to prevent the worst-case scenario. Time to save lives,” she said.

At least one law enforcement official — Livingston County Sheriff Michael Murphy — has vowed not to enforce the new red flag law. More than half of the state’s counties have passed resolutions declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, which oppose laws they believe infringe on gun rights.

But the Michigan State Police, which has jurisdiction throughout the state, could enforce the proposed red flag law, according to the state attorney general’s office. A Michigan State Police spokesperson declined to comment on whether it would do so if a local law enforcement agency refused, calling it a hypothetical scenario.

“For those who are in law enforcement who refuse to enforce these important orders, let me say this loudly and clearly: I will make certain that I find someone with jurisdiction who will enforce these orders,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said at the bill signing.

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Do red flag laws work?

Lawmakers across the nation in recent years have grappled with how to slow gun violence. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been at least 233 mass shootings so far in 2023 — putting the United States on a record pace for mass shootings this year.

Michigan became the 21st state to adopt a red flag law but questions on whether the state can successfully enforce the law remain. And research and analysis on the effectiveness on red flag laws are mixed.

An Associated Press analysis in September found that in the 19 states with red flag laws, firearms were removed from people 15,049 times since 2020, fewer than 10 per 100,000 adult residents.

Red flag laws in most states have not been in place long enough for there to be a comprehensive conclusion, said David Pucino, deputy chief counsel at Giffords Law Center, a gun control organization led by Giffords.

And effectiveness depends on the implementation of red flag laws. There have been cases of law enforcement not using the law when the situation seemed to call for it.

An investigation by the Indianapolis Star, part of the USA TODAY Network, found that police and prosecutors failed to file in court more than 100 red flag cases that they should have. The Buffalo shooting in 2022 also raised red-flag questions as the 18-year-old suspect was referred for a mental health evaluation in the previous year after making a threat that was reviewed by state authorities.

Contributing: Ledyard King and Merdie Nzanga, USA TODAY; Associated Press

Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.



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