Michigan reps push red flag gun bill in Congress

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Two Michigan lawmakers are pushing a bipartisan bill in Congress that would encourage states to adopt laws similar to an Indiana statute that allows law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from people at risk of harming themselves or others.

Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, introduced the legislation Wednesday in the U.S. House with Reps. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, and Ted Deutch, D-Florida.

“What this bill does is it provides $50 million a year in grants to encourage states that adopt laws that require both due process and probable cause,” Upton said.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox for states that follow the pattern of what Indiana has done ... to provide that incentive so we can keep our communities safe.”

The Jake Laird Act is named after an Indianapolis police officer killed in August 2004 by a man with a history of mental illness.

Investigators later learned that Kenneth Anderson’s weapons had been seized by police earlier that year after he was hospitalized for an “emergency detention.” Without the legal authority to keep Anderson’s weapons, officers returned them five months before his rampage.

The lawmakers said they chose Indiana as a model because of its track record of savings lives after more than a decade in effect and because it was approved almost unanimously by that state’s Republican-led General Assembly in 2005.

“We think this has a strong chance of getting done done,” said Deutch, whose district includes the Parkland school where 17 were killed in a February shooting.

“If Congress can’t come together to figure out how to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, then we don’t deserve to be here.”

A bill introduced last year — the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act — would also encourage states to adopt so-called “red flag laws” by creating a grant program. That legislation is sponsored by California Rep. Salud Carbajal and Sen. Dianne Feinstein — both Democrats.

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have a similar measure but theirs would not allow for warrantless seizures as the Jake Laird Act would, Brooks said.

“If someone is being a threat to themselves or to the community we need a tool to take those guns away while they are getting help,” Dingell said.

“We also understand the critical need for due process. That too is a fundamental pillar of our Constitution.”

Brooks said she and others have discussed the bill with the National Rifle Association and “we look forward to working with them.”

But the NRA said Wednesday it opposes the legislation, though it argues that those with mental illness who are a danger to themselves or others should not have access to firearms.

“We support risk protection orders that have adequate due process provisions and require those who are found dangerous to receive the mental health treatment they so urgently need,” NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter said.

“Unfortunately, HR 5717, among many flaws, lacks both mental health care requirements and due process protections, and we oppose it on those grounds.”

For example, the NRA says people may only be deprived of their right to possess firearms after a hearing of which they are notified and in which they may participate.

Indiana’s law has been used more than 600 times in Indianapolis alone, including 47 times in 2017, Brooks said. It has not been challenged in the state’s Supreme Court, she added.

In addition to Indiana, seven other states have adopted laws that may be used to temporarily confiscate firearms from people deemed by a judge or law enforcement to be a threat to themselves or others.

Twenty states are considering similar legislation, according to the Coalition to End Gun Violence. Colorado’s GOP-controlled Senate this week defeated just such a measure.

Michigan Democrats back a bill in the state Legislature to allow police or a family member to petition a court for an order to seize guns from someone deemed a danger to themselves or others. Republicans haven’t supported it.

Gov. Rick Snyder has expressed interest in a red flag law, but didn’t include one in his school safety plan.

Connecticut has the oldest statute, adopted in 1999 after a mass shooting.

A study last year by Duke University researchers found that, on average, about 20 gun removals a year were carried out in the first eight years the law was in effect in Connecticut. The analysis suggested the number cases was relatively low due to the “time-consuming” and complex nature of removal procedures.

After 2007 — the year that 32 people died in the Virginia Tech massacre — gun removals increased to about 100 a year through June 2013.

Under the House bill, states could get grants for law enforcement training if their legislation meets certain criteria. For instance, the laws should permit warrantless seizures but the officer must be required to file with the proper court within 48 hours.

The state laws must require the court to hold a hearing on a seizure within 21 days, and the weapons would be returned if the individual is deemed not dangerous.

If the individual is found to be dangerous by the court, police would retain the firearms seized; revoke the individual’s license to carry; and enter a restraining order against the individual acquiring a firearm.

Individuals would be able to petition the court to return the seized weapons 180 days, and the court may do so if the individual proves they are not dangerous. If not granted, such petitions could be refiled every 180 days.


Jonathan Oosting contributed