Snyder eyes ‘red flag’ gun safety law

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder is preparing a new plan to prevent gun violence and considering “red flag” regulations that could allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms and ammunition from a person whom a judge deems a legitimate threat.

The Republican governor is studying “best practices” from around the country and hopes to release an action plan soon in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Florida and a double murder at Central Michigan University.

“It’s really, how can you strike a balance of providing protection at the same time recognizing you need good due process?” Snyder told reporters Tuesday at the Michigan Capitol. “I think some other states have been doing this for some time, so we should seriously look” at red flag laws.

The governor’s comments come as Michigan lawmakers consider responses to the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida, including a pending GOP proposal that would allow trained teachers and staff to carry concealed guns in schools.

But any red flag bill could face an uphill battle in Lansing, where Republican leaders have raised due process concerns and said they’re more focused on school safety and mental health reforms in the wake of the Florida shooting.

“I’m not sure where the governor’s coming from on anything gun-related,” said Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, whose bill to allow concealed pistols in schools was vetoed by Snyder in early 2015.

“Every time there’s a shooting all people want to do is scream and holler about guns, but they never look at the safety issue. What are schools doing to protect their kids?”

State Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican and former Eaton County Sheriff, said police already have the authority to take a person into custody and to a mental health facility for review if they pose a threat to themselves or others.

“I believe, and many police I’ve talked to believe, that (a red flag law) would lead to barricaded gunmen,” Jones said. “You know, ‘We’re knocking on your door and we’re here to take your guns away.’ It doesn’t sound like a good plan.”

Friday’s double homicide at CMU was not the type of mass shooting that has prompted calls for major gun regulations. In the Mount Pleasant case, a student is suspected of killing his parents using a gun registered to his father, a part-time police officer. But Snyder said it “just reinforced the fact that we should be looking at what more we can do.”

Any effort to prevent gun violence should not be limited to K-12 schools, the governor said, pointing to the events at CMU, which he visited Friday evening. The campus was put on lockdown for most of the day while suspected shooter James Eric Davis Jr. remained at large.

“Think about the students, the parents, the faculty, the staff and the people of Mount Pleasant,” Snyder said. “We had an active shooter out there for a long time.”

The Florida Legislature on Wednesday approved a red flag gun proposal supporters argue could have helped prevent a former student from killing 17 people last month at a high school. Several people had warned law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, about Nikolas Cruz prior to the shooting.

More than 100 tips on potential Michigan school attacks were submitted through the OK2SAY student hotline in February, Attorney General Bill Schuette said Wednesday. No shootings occurred. The state fielded a record 670 tips through the program last month, including 127 suicide threats.

Five states have red flag laws or “extreme risk” protection orders, which allow police to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals if a judge finds them to be a threat.

Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott wants a similar law in his state, and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is reportedly preparing a federal version. Snyder said he talked with Scott and other peers at a recent National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., and those conversations “made an impact” on him.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, agrees with Republicans who say the state could do more to enhance school safety, suggesting a $50 million budget line for security improvements. But he also supports the idea of a red flag law to remove guns from people who pose an immediate threat to themselves or others.

“You look at what happened in Florida, and there were multiple signals raised that showed there were problems (with the shooter),” Ananich said. “Obviously, we have to have strong due process in that before we take away someone’s rights, even if it is temporary, but I think that should be part of the equation.”

State Rep. Robert Wittenberg introduced a red flag-type bill last year, but the measure has languished in committee for nine months without a hearing in the GOP-controlled House.

The Oak Park Democrat met Wednesday morning with House Judiciary Chairman Jim Runestad, R-White Lake Township, and was set to meet with Snyder’s office later in the day.

“Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for people to really start talking about it,” Wittenberg said, noting he is willing to consider changes to the bill to address concerns. “I’m hoping that people come around.”

The proposed “extreme risk protection order act” would allow police, family members others who have a “close relationship” to ask a judge to allow authorities to seize firearms from an individual if “there is reasonable cause to believe” that person “poses a significant risk of personal injury to himself or herself by possessing a firearm.”

Runestad said he is willing to explore the idea but thinks the bill, as currently written, “is fraught with issues.”

The second-term Republican is developing legislation that would allow specially trained teachers and staff to access weapons in schools, which are generally considered gun-free zones.

Runestad said he envisions willing school employees would be able to use a fingerprint to unlock a weapon that could be used in the event of an active shooter.

“People have a misconception that this would be mandated,” he said. “This would be permissive — they would have permission under certain circumstance. If the district doesn’t want to do this, they don’t have to.”

Snyder has not weighed in on the pending teacher proposal but said at a recent Politico conference that “I don’t think having more guns is a good thing.”

While supporters say allowing trained school employees to carry weapons could help deter shooters, Ananich argued arming “the lunch lady and the day care worker and stuff like that is the wrong direction.”

Democrats last week renewed their calls for universal background checks on any gun purchase, an attempt to close a so-called “gun show loophole” that allows some private rifle sales without a permit.

House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, said last week he had not yet reviewed many of the gun-related proposals but noted he has heard law enforcement concerns with the red flag concept. He said he is focused on long-planned mental health reforms.

It’s ... a delicate balance. We need to make sure that law abiding citizens who do not suffer from mental illness are not getting caught up and having their constitutional rights trampled on,” he said.

Associated Press contributed.