Sister of Oxford High School victim joins push for tougher gun storage laws

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The older sister of a student killed in the Oxford High School shooting gathered with lawmakers Tuesday in Lansing to voice her support for legislation that would require gun owners to securely store their firearms and prevent access by minors.

Reina St. Juliana, a junior at Oxford High School, said her sister, Hana St. Juliana, might still be alive if lawmakers had acted on the legislation when it was introduced in the House and Senate in June. 

"This is a common-sense bill that could have prevented the Oxford tragedy," Reina St. Juliana said at a news conference livestreamed to social media.

Reina St. Juliana, a junior at Oxford High School, speaks on the need for tougher gun storage laws to prevent minor access to firearms. Reina said the legislation could have saved her younger sister, Hana St. Juliana, who was killed in the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School.

"I have difficulty understanding why it had not been passed and implemented," she said. "It could have saved my sister. I could have spent my Christmas with Hana. I could have begun 2022 with my favorite person by my side and we could have had our family dinners without an open, missing seat at the dining table.”

Prosecutors have accused James and Jennifer Crumbley of buying the Sig Sauer Model SP 2022 9 mm semi-automatic handgun used in the Nov. 30 shooting for their son Ethan Crumbley, 15, as a Christmas present. 

The parents' attorneys have have argued the gun was hidden in a locked drawer in their bedroom ahead of the shooting.

James and Jennifer Crumbley are both charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the four students killed in the shooting, and face up to 15 years in prison. Their son is charged as an adult and jailed on first-degree murder, terrorism and other charges that could keep him in prison for life.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, who is leading the prosecution of the Crumbleys, said Michigan's gun laws were "woefully inadequate" to hold the parents accountable for their alleged role in the shooting. 

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, cited McDonald's frustration as proof of the need for the legislation that has gone without a hearing for nine months in the GOP-led House and Senate. 

"I’m pretty sick of the status quo here," Bayer said Tuesday. "I’m tired of thoughts and prayers. We have the privilege of being able to actually do something about this.”

What the bills do

The 4-bill package introduced in both chambers would require guns to be safely stored in a secure lockbox or locked with a locking device to prevent access by a minor.

A person would be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 93 days and a $500 fine, if they failed to secure a firearm and a minor obtained it and possessed it in a public place or in a threatening or reckless manner in the presence of another person.

A person would be guilty of a felony, punishable by up to five years or a $5,000 fine, if they failed to secure a firearm and a minor uses it to harm or kill himself or another person. 

The rule exempts a minor's use of a firearm if they have permission from a parent or guardian and it is used for employment, ranching, farming, target practice or hunting. It also exempts the gun owner where a minor unlawfully enters a premises to take the firearm or if it is used in self-defense or defense of another.

The bills would require gun sellers to post notice of the safe storage requirements and give written warning of the requirements to buyers. The legislation also would exempt sales and use taxes for safes, lock boxes or trigger and barrel locks. 

Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, on Tuesday underscored the role the legislation could have played in stopping the Nov. 30 shooting. 

"A safely stored firearm would never have made it into a child’s hands," she said. "It would have never been taken out of a home without either parent’s knowledge." 

Pressure grows for reform

Attorney General Dana Nessel argued Tuesday that it remains "unconscionable" that the Michigan Legislature has failed to pass some of the "common sense safety measures" before them. 

Nessel said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has reported more than 30 cases since 2019 that involved death or serious injury of a child based on a failure to properly secure weapons. 

The Michigan Office of Children's Ombudsman said last month that a simple measure like locking guns up could have saved at least 20 lives in Michigan over the past 18 months.

"In the wake of the recent school tragedy in Oxford, we need legislation like this now more than ever," Nessel said. "It will save lives and it could prevent a tragedy of this sort happening again.”

A group of Michigan advocates on Monday announced they'd launched an "exploratory committee" to consider a 2024 ballot initiative that would impose firearms restrictions in Michigan if the Legislature failed to act on reforms such as safe gun storage, universal background checks, red flag laws for domestic violence or high-risk cases and bills preventing the carry of guns in the Capitol. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has reportedly agreed to allow a committee hearing on red flag legislation but there are no immediate plans for hearings on the safe storage laws. 

Great Lakes Gun Rights was quick to push back on the "exploratory committee" considering a ballot initiative. 

“Not a single proposal by this group will do anything to curb gun violence or stop violent criminals," said Brenden Boudreau, executive director for the group. "Instead, honest citizens will further be disarmed while murderers bent on destruction have an easier time picking out their next victims."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com