Michigan governor signs major gun reform into law: What it includes

Laws require universal background checks, safe storage

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed gun reform legislation into law on April 13, 2023, the two-month anniversary of the fatal mass shooting at Michigan State University. Photo provided by the governor's office. (Office of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer)

Several gun reform bills were signed into law Thursday by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, establishing universal background checks and gun storage requirements amid a push for action against growing gun violence.

On the two-month anniversary of the Michigan State University campus shootings that left three students dead and five injured, state, student, and local leaders and advocates convened in East Lansing to watch Whitmer sign six gun reform bills into law. In an attempt to address growing gun violence, which comes in many forms in addition to mass shootings, the new laws will establish universal background checks for gun purchases and require gun owners to securely store their weapons.

The bills

Here are the bills Whitmer signed Thursday and what they do:

  • Senate Bill 79: Requires a person to keep a firearm stored or left unattended on a premises unloaded and locked, either with a locking device or stored in a locked container, if it is “reasonably known that a minor is or is likely to be present on the premises,” Whitmer’s office said. There are a range of penalties for violating this requirement.
  • Senate Bill 80: Updates Michigan’s criminal code for safe firearm storage as it relates to “child access protection.”
  • Senate Bills 81, 82: Lower the costs of gun safety devices in an effort to allow easier access to materials needed to safely store firearms.
  • House Bills 4138, 4142: Expands universal background checks to all firearm purchases, from handguns to long guns.

Why these specific reforms matter

When it comes to policy, there is no one piece of legislation that can wholly address the issue of gun violence at the state or federal level -- at least, not yet. Experts say there are various causes of gun violence, and so there are various potential solutions that can be (and are being) implemented to address the issue.

Though gun violence is a growing issue throughout Michigan and the nation, researchers have only recently begun to look into the causes of the issue and how it can be solved. A lot more research is needed and will continue, but experts have offered some potential solutions so far, including policy changes.

One option that has shown promise around the U.S. is the establishment of red flag laws, which would allow law enforcement to temporarily take guns away from a person that a judge deems to be a risk to themself or others. Proposed legislation seeking to establish red flaw laws in Michigan have not yet been approved; the state Senate still has to vote.

Contrary to some rhetoric, red flag laws don’t seek to take away guns from responsible gun owners. In fact, experts say the solution to gun violence isn’t taking guns away from responsible owners at all.

“It’s about preventing people who have access who should not,” said Dr. Patrick Carter, co-director of the Firearm Injury Prevention Center at the University of Michigan.

Specifically, red flag laws are meant to protect a gun owner or others around them if that owner is considered dangerous. Whether the gun violence looks like a mass shooting, interpersonal violence or suicide, red flag laws have the potential to keep a person in distress from accessing a deadly weapon.

More here: Mass gun murder in America: What’s behind it, ways to end it

That thought process also carries over into background checks, which have only been required when purchasing a handgun in Michigan. New legislation signed into law Thursday will establish background checks for all gun purchases, including long guns and rifles.

It is argued that more (and more thorough) background checks can help prevent people with bad intentions from legally purchasing a firearm, especially those with criminal and domestic violence histories.

On a different note, the push for safe gun storage grew after the 2021 Oxford High School shooting, in which a then-student opened fire during school hours, murdering four students and injuring seven other people. Prosecutors argued that if the shooter’s parents had locked up the handgun in their home, the shooter wouldn’t have been able to access it so easily and bring it to school to carry out the shooting.

As gun violence happens more often among children, particularly younger children who have easy access to a firearm in their home, officials believe requiring gun owners to safely store firearms will help keep them out of children’s hands.

Michigan voters want gun reform

In a survey of Michigan voters taken after the February mass shooting at Michigan State, voters overwhelmingly said they support proposed gun reform policies.

As of March, nearly 88% of Michigan voters support universal background checks, while 77.5% of voters strongly support such legislation. More than 77% of voters who identified as Republicans support the background check law, including 77.8% of Republican gun owners.

About 80% of Michigan voters support passage of safe storage gun laws. Nearly 75% of voters support implementing red flag laws.

It is not often that states pass gun reform legislation, even after mass shooting tragedies, despite public outcry. But both Democratic and Republican Michigan voters and gun owners support amending gun policies in the wake of the Oxford and Michigan State mass shootings.

Related: Michigan students endure 2 mass school shootings in under 2 years

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.