WASHINGTON — Most Michiganders favor stricter gun laws, recent polling suggests, but efforts to advance gun safety legislation have languished in the state Legislature.
That disconnect is likely due in part to partisan gerrymandering, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates progressive policies.
The analysis looks at gerrymandering in five states, including Michigan, where Democrats won the majority of statewide votes, but Republicans maintained control over the state legislatures. Conservative politicians in those states have “refused to allow a meaningful debate on any commonsense gun safety measures,” according to the report’s authors. The paper also looks at Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Virginia.
“In each of these states, it is likely that, in the absence of partisan gerrymandering, the legislature would have enacted measures to strengthen gun laws — measures that could have saved lives,” the paper says.
Eric Holder, former attorney general under the President Obama administration, said in a statement that the CAP report makes clear that “partisan gerrymandering that locks in power for one party makes politicians more likely to cater to the special interests who fund their campaigns than the people they should represent.”
Holder, who is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, added, “Finally ending gerrymandering when new maps are drawn in 2021 can be the key that unlocks progress on legislation supported by the vast majority of the American people to reduce gun violence.”
In Michigan, Democrats have won a majority of votes for the state House since at least 2012, but haven’t come close to winning the majority of the chamber’s seats, according to CAP.
In 2018, Democrats won 52.4% of the votes for the state House and 51.3% of the votes for the state Senate, but Republicans held onto control of both chambers.
Michigan was ranked No. 4 in a September report by the University of Southern California Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, which ranked the “worst U.S. state legislative partisan gerrymanders.”
Michigan’s districts are “heavily skewed in favor of Republicans,” wrote the authors of the CAP report.
The analysis points to Michigan’s high number of gun-related suicides, pointing to federal data that 6,424 people in the state died by gun-related suicide from 2008 until 2017 — that’s a gun suicide every 14 hours.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave Michigan a “C” on its annual scorecard that grades state gun laws. The state ranked 16th out of 50 for the strength of its gun laws, according to the Giffords survey.
Gun safety advocates have pushed for“red flag” laws, which would give courts the authority to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed threats to themselves or others. A poll released in March by the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that 70% of those polled would support the red-flag legislation, including 64% of Republicans.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wrote on Twitter in August that she looks forward to signing a red-flag law: “No single law can prevent every instance of gun violence, but this is a commonsense step. We can’t wait idly by for an act of gun violence to devastate our state to demand action, we must act now.”
Those bills have been introduced in both chambers of the Michigan legislature but have stalled in committee, according to CAP.
The authors of the CAP report advanced what they called a “relatively simple solution” to end partisan gerrymandering: “Do not let politicians draw their own districts and require districts to represent the views of the public as accurately as possible.”
They suggest that states use independent commissions to draw districts, and to create voter-determined districts.
For instance, the authors wrote, “if 55 percent of voters support a particular party, that party should receive as close as possible to 55 percent of the seats. When districts are fair, more votes generally means more seats.”