Many people are frustrated with the U.S. Senate for its failure to act on the expanded background checks legislation passed by the House. I share that frustration.
But if you are frustrated by inaction in Washington, you will find no comfort in what is going on in the Republican-led Michigan Legislature.
My Democratic colleagues and I have introduced legislation that would create a tool for family members and law enforcement to use to avert tragedy. On the books in 17 other states and Washington, D.C., extreme risk protection orders (ERPO) provide a legal avenue for concerned family members, significant others or law enforcement to remove an individual’s guns if evidence supports that s/he “poses a significant risk of personal injury to himself or herself or others by possessing a firearm.”
To put the need for this tool in context, consider that there are 100 firearms-related deaths every day in this country. Two-thirds of those deaths are suicides. As of this writing, there have been 289 mass shootings in the United States since the beginning of the year.
This information might seem to compel swift action to prevent further gun violence. At least, it compels me. The ERPO bills were introduced by the Gun Violence Prevention Caucus back in February – about 242 mass shootings ago.
But the bills have gathered dust for more than half a year. They won’t receive a hearing in the state House Judiciary Committee because Republicans claim to have concerns about their constitutionality. And they say there just is not enough support among Republicans to allow the bills to survive the hearing.
As a lawyer, I’ll get back to the Constitution in a moment. But first, I want to point out that if it is true that Republicans on the Judiciary Committee would not allow the bills to survive a hearing, they are not listening to the people they serve.
According to a recent poll by the nonpartisan APM Research Lab, an overwhelming majority of Americans support ERPO legislation, also known as “red flag” or gun violence protective order legislation. This overwhelming majority includes a majority of Republicans and a majority of gun owners.
In other states with ERPO laws, bills have garnered bipartisan support. Recently, even President Donald Trump has expressed support for some iteration of a red-flag law.
Now, let’s talk about the Constitution. No constitutional rights are absolute – completely free from qualification, restriction or regulation. What’s more, the Fourth Amendment protects us, our personal property, and homes from “unreasonable search and seizure.”
If due process is, in fact, the major obstacle to ERPO legislation in Michigan, as Republicans have expressed, let’s have a hearing where we can talk about how to best balance the need to prevent gun violence against the individual’s right to possess a firearm. We can consider more carefully if it is reasonable to temporarily remove firearms from a person who has threatened violence against others or himself or herself.
By the way, statistics strongly indicate that the life that is saved by an ERPO will most likely be the gun owner’s. The National Institute of Mental Health has identified suicide as a public health crisis.
In fact, it is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and it is the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 34. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control, Michigan’s suicide rate has increased more than the national average.
Access to a firearm makes an individual three times more susceptible to suicide. Firearms are involved in at least 50% of all suicide deaths. My Republican colleagues might take note that men, white people and those living in rural areas are more likely to die by suicide than other demographics.
Some will ask: What about mental health? It is no secret that those with mental illness have been terribly underserved since the move to “deinstitutionalize” started in the 1970s.
The reality is that mental health is a much bigger, more expensive, more complicated problem to tackle than is taking an individual’s firearms in the short term to prevent a tragic outcome. Our state’s mental health needs are immense, but we cannot wait to solve the mental health crisis while people die from preventable gun violence every day.
I’m ready to do what the majority of Americans want. People are needlessly dying while an extreme minority view dictates legislative inaction. There is no reasonable excuse.