Oxford High School shooting renews debate over Michigan gun policies

Beth LeBlanc Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

The Tuesday shooting at Oxford High School that killed four students and wounded seven including a teacher has ignited a new debate over gun control policies in Michigan. 

Over a 24-hour period, a top Republican official advocated for the arming of teachers, while several Democratic lawmakers and officials called for stricter gun control. Later Wednesday afternoon, a Republican lawmaker announced plans for legislation that would allow teachers to secure personal weapons in lockboxes at schools.

Four high school students lost their lives and seven others were injured — including some who are in critical condition — after a 15-year-old student allegedly opened fire with a handgun his father had purchased four days prior.

Those killed were Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17. 

Oxford High School students Ella Sharrow, 14; Alex Mcarthur, 15; and Max Myrand, 15, participated in the candlelight vigil at Lakepoint Community Church in Oxford on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. The shooting at the high school that killed four students and wounded seven has renewed debate in Michigan about gun possession and gun control policies.

Police have said the suspect, Ethan Crumbley, surrendered a handgun when approached by deputies about five minutes after the first call to police came in. Crumbley, who is now charged with four counts of first-degree murder and other felonies, has retained a lawyer and was not speaking with police as of Tuesday. 

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, a Beverly Hills Democrat whose district includes Oxford, called for a moment of silence Wednesday on the Senate floor and described the shooting as "a horrible senseless attack on children by children."

She thanked law enforcement for their quick action but noted "our schools, our kids should not have to have that."

Speaking in a later statement on behalf of Michigan's legislative Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus, Bayer and Rep. Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac, noted gun reform has met resistance in the past. 

"We have introduced commonsense gun safety legislation in the past and, in doing so, have warned about the very tragedy we now face," the statement said. "We are reaching across the aisle, seeking to revisit this issue so we can hopefully prevent another senseless tragedy in our schools, and must recognize that the freedom to kill is not more important than the freedom to live and learn in peace."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told reporters Wednesday that there will be time to determine whether the Legislature should act. He praised the quick actions of first responders but also speculated regarding whether there were warning signs missed.

"If we get obsessed with eliminating all risks, we will then develop and evolve into a country we won't recognize," Shirkey said.

"It's a balance," he said. "It's a very narrow road, and it's hard. These kinds of events keep those thoughts in mind."

Shortly after the shooting Tuesday, the Michigan chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action urged change to protect students. 

Aria Segura, a volunteer with Students Demand Action in Michigan, said no one should have to experience what her cousin, a student at Oxford High School, had to endure. 

“We should not have to live in a world with gun violence in our schools, or in our communities, but for far too many of us, this is our reality," Segura said. "We need real action to protect all students and communities from gun violence.”

Her comments appeared beside Moms Demand Action Founder Shannon Watts, who said the Oxford community would be "forever scarred" by the violence. 

“We don't have to keep living this way, and our children and educators most certainly don't have to keep dying this way," Watts said. "Ending gun violence demands action and we won't stop fighting for commonsense solutions to protect our communities and keep our kids safe.”

Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock tweeted Tuesday that she liked being around guns and argued: "Many people tonight would give anything for a gun carrying teacher in Oxford today around 1 p.m."

When asked about her comments Wednesday, Maddock said she "woke up heartbroken" for the students, parents and teachers impacted by the shooting. She said "now is not the time to play politics with this terrible tragedy."

"As a mother, I believe no parent should have to bury their child," Maddock said. "No teacher should have to lose a student. And no friend should lose a friend. I am keeping the families, students and teachers at Oxford High School in my prayers."

Rep. Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers, announced Wednesday he was working on legislation that would allow schools to provide lockboxes for teachers and staff to store personal guns at educational institutions. He argued the policy could provide teachers a method of defense and could act as a deterrent.

"If you have multiple teachers who are ready to respond quickly, I think that helps to prevent the issue from being worse than it is," he said. 

Dozens of gun control bills and red flag legislation have failed to gain legislative support in Michigan over the years. One of the only restrictions to take effect in recent years was a policy emerging from the Michigan State Capitol Commission earlier this year, banning the open carry of firearms at the state Capitol. 

Among those bills that have been introduced but not passed through the GOP-led Legislature this session are ones that would require universal background checks for gun purchases, prohibit abusers from possessing a gun for eight years post-conviction, require safe storage of firearms to prevent accidental injury and allow judges to issue orders preventing individuals from possessing a gun if they're found to be a risk to themselves or others.

Several Democratic lawmakers remarked Tuesday and Wednesday on the lack of movement on gun control legislation and the need for reform.

"The sad truth is thanks to legislative inaction we offer our children such thorough school shooting training that we adults were impressed by their composure and quick thinking," Rep. Matt Koleszar, a Plymouth Democrat and former teacher, said in a Wednesday tweet. "We have failed those kids by preparing them instead of preventing this."

"Today’s tragedy at Oxford High School is a terrifying act of violence that hits close to home," Rep. Felica Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township, said Tuesday on social media. "While many questions remain unanswered, it is once again clear that we must act to end gun violence in schools and support students’ mental health."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, had a tie to the shooting through a friend and former neighbor whose son was at Oxford High School. She talked to both the friend and his son throughout Tuesday, hearing how the father told his son to get his friends into a classroom and to barricade the door.

He then told them to look outside the window and check for any signs of an active shooter before breaking the window to flee to safety, Dingell recounted in a Facebook post.

“I am tired at trite words that our prayers are with the families….they are and while prayers may bring comfort for some, they aren’t solving any of our problems. I don’t know the answers,” Dingell wrote, noting her late husband, the late Rep. John Dingell Jr., was a gun owner and former board member at the National Rifle Association.

“I also grew up in a house with a man that shouldn’t have had access (to) guns and lived the nightmare of being in a house (where) access to those guns in volatile situations put lives at risk. These issues are complicated and not simple. Period," Dingell wrote.

U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, said her heart goes out to the families and the students in the Oxford community, but she does not see stricter gun control as a solution to school shootings.

"What about the guy that just ran through the Christmas parade? So do we need 'car control?'" McClain said Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol. "If we had stability and mental health ... we'd have a lot fewer of these issues. We need to address the mental health issue. It's not a gun control issue. It's a mental health issue."

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said no child, parent, teacher, or community should ever have to go through the tragedy that struck Oxford High Tuesday.

"I am so frustrated and tired of moments of silence, and cannot imagine the pain the families of the deceased are experiencing," Lawrence said in a statement. “The refusal by some to take meaningful action is costing us the lives of our children, and we can’t keep burying our heads in the sand. The gun violence epidemic in this country is a public and mental health crisis and we must stop the bloodshed in our schools and in our communities.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, told The Detroit News on Wednesday that the tragedy was "horrifying."

Asked whether there were any policy solutions that could have prevented the tragedy, she said “there’s a lot more information that we need to have.”

“We know that the gun that he used his father had purchased. We don’t know what that means, we don’t know what his state of mind was,” Stabenow said. “My heart goes out to the families of the (four) people who lost their lives.”


Staff writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.