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A new gun ordinance in Eastpointe is coming under fire from gun rights advocates, but supporters said penalizing people who leave their firearms in unlocked vehicles is an effort to crack down on rising crime and gun violence. 

Under the law that took effect in October, owners who store their firearms in unlocked vehicles in the Macomb County community can be fined up to $350 on a first offense and could face up to 90 days in jail.

The measure was prompted after a rash of firearm thefts from vehicle in the past three years, with 60 stolen over that period and 21 guns swiped in one year, said Eastpointe Public Safety Director George Rouhib.

"It almost seemed like every other day someone was calling to say they had a gun stolen from their car," Rouhib said. "I ran the numbers and it was quite alarming. ... The majority of (vehicles) were left unlocked."

Although  people have a duty to responsibly handle their weapons, gun rights advocate Rick Ector of Legally Armed in Detroit said the ordinance punishes gun owners and absolves criminals who steal firearms.

"The focus seems to be on law-abiding citizens who carry guns for their protection and their families," Ector said. "The concern is that they are totally absolving the criminals who are stealing the guns and getting a slap on the wrist of a low bond in the first place."

Rouhib points to a deadly incident last month in which a gun stolen from a vehicle in Detroit was used in the Oct. 12 shooting of six people at the Last Call bar in Eastpointe. One of the victims, Jared Glenn, died from his wounds.

Lenny Jessie Whitfield, 47, has been charged with first-degree murder, five counts of assault with intent to murder, five counts of felony firearm and one count of firearm-possession by a felon for the shooting.

In other incidents, the guns are stolen by youths or drug-addicted individuals who end up selling the guns, which in turn are usually used in homicides, robberies and other crimes, Rouhib said.

"It's basically a health and safety thing," the police chief said. "What we want is to make the community more safe."

"It's not that intrusive. All we're asking is, please, if you leave your gun in your car overnight, which is not a good idea, please lock it or bring the gun in the house, that's all we're asking. Nothing more, nothing less," said Rouhib.

The chief said 60 firearms have been stolen from vehicles in the last three years.

"If that's not troubling," said Rouhib. "I don't know what is. There's no reason for a gun to be left in a vehicle at night."

The new city law already has stoked a lot of debate from both citizens and gun rights groups.

Eastpointe resident Brian Stone does not agree with the ordinance.

"This is a violation of the Constitution and simply cannot be implemented," said Stone, who was among those who commented on the ordinance on the Eastpointe Fire and Police Department's Facebook page. "Additionally, if someone’s weapon were to be stolen, please tell me what would their incentive be to call it in? Face being fined and or charged with a crime. This isn’t the answer. While I do agree it’s irresponsible to leave it in your vehicle, especially unlocked, again, based on my understanding, this is a violation on the (city's) part."

Ector, a member of the National Rifle Association, added: "To make gun owners responsible for criminals stealing their property, I can't accept that either."

The gun ordinance might not be legally sound, said Ector, who said gun laws can only be enacted by the Michigan legislature and the federal government. 

The city has 32,000 people living within its 5.1-mile borders and the incidents "were troubling."

Officials for the Lansing-based Michigan Municipal League said Tuesday they believe the ordinance is unique in Michigan.

“The Michigan Municipal League researched various data bases of city ordinances and could not find other ordinances similar to Eastpointe’," said Matt Bach, the spokesman for the Michigan Municipal League. "To the best of the league’s knowledge, this Eastpointe ordinance is the first of its kind in the state.”

Rouhib said his office believes in the Second Amendment and gun rights, but that his department and the City of Eastpointe also believes in gun safety and is just trying to make people "accountable" for their firearms.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

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