House approves gun safety package with Slotkin bill responding to Oxford shooting

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The Democrat-led U.S. House approved a gun safety package Wednesday that incorporated Michigan U.S. Rep. Elissa's Slotkin gun storage legislation introduced in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting nearly six months ago.

The Holly Democrat's measure requires the secure storage of firearms in households where children could reasonably access the weapon. Adults who don't secure their firearms could face up to five years in prison if a child does gain access to the weapon and uses it to cause injury to themselves or others or uses it in a crime.

"The bill doesn't impact your decision to buy a gun. Instead, it asks that you act responsibly when you have it. This isn't controversial. It's not partisan. It is basic common sense of what most people do anyways," Slotkin said Wednesday on the House floor.

"Personal responsibility is at the heart of what it means to be an American, and gun owners have a critical role to play in making sure we can protect our communities."

Students hug at a memorial at Oxford High School on Dec. 1, 2021, a day after four students were killed and seven others wounded. The May 2022 shooting rampage in a Buffalo supermarket, carried out by an 18-year-old who was flagged for making a threatening comment the year before, highlights concerns over whether schools are adequately supporting and screening students.

Her measure was included in an eight-bill package that lawmakers passed 223-204 in response to recent mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, with provisions that include raising the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic centerfire rifle from 18 to 21 and banning high-capacity magazines and bump stocks.

Slotkin's section of the bill was retained as part of the package by a vote of 220-205. 

The House package does not have the votes to become law in the narrowly divided Senate, where senators continue bipartisan talks on a possible deal on other gun reform measures.

Debate on the package coincided with a House hearing on gun violence that included testimony from fourth-grader Miah Cerrillo, who survived the Uvalde shooting at Robb Elementary School where a gunman killed 19 of her classmates and two teachers. The girl said in a recorded video that she witnessed him shoot a teacher in the head, telling her "good night." 

“I thought he was going to come back to the room, so I grabbed the blood, and I put it all over me,” Miah told the lawmakers. “I just stayed quiet.” She used the dead teacher's phone to call 911 and say they needed help.

Gun groups like the National Association for Gun Rights object to Slotkin's bill and laws requiring safe storage, arguing they could prevent quick access to weapons for use in self-defense.

"On its own, this legislation is unenforceable, but does set a precedent for disgruntled neighbors, friends and family members to rat out otherwise safe, law-abiding gun owners who want firearms at the ready for the defense of themselves and others," the association's president, Dudley Brown, said after Slotkin introduced her bill in December.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan (Holly).

"But this is what Joe Biden and the anti-gun Left want — Big Brother inside your home, controlling how you exercise your right to keep and bear arms," Brown said.

Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minnesota, said Wednesday that "attacking" law-abiding gun owners won't solve the gun violence problem. 

"Why are we here debating legislation we know will never become law? When there are completely separate from this proposal, bipartisan efforts going in the Senate?" Fischbach asked during debate. 

"We know this is not a genuine effort by the Democrats, as they went right to extremes of what would divide this country and not work with Republicans. ... This is a political ploy."

Slotkin said Wednesday that, while the provisions in the Democrats' package are common-sense measures, "I have no illusion on how partisan this is going to be."

"I know how much the gun lobby has a sway with my peers, and I know that straight-up selfish interest in being reelected is guiding my colleagues in this chamber," Slotkin added. "But I encourage my friends on both sides of the aisle to prioritize public health and public safety over political concerns."

Slotkin said she was frustrated that Democratic leadership placed her bill in a larger package, rather than holding separate votes on each piece of legislation to allow some of her Republican colleagues to possibly support her bill. "Giant" packages invite GOP lawmakers to object to just one element and vote no, she said. 

"And then it's dead on arrival in the Senate. How many times did I see this movie? I'm sick of it. I'm sick of it," Slotkin said in an interview. 

To register her protest, she voted against the rule governing debate on the package, though she voted for final passage later Wednesday.

Slotkin introduced her bill in December in the wake of the deadly Oxford shooting. Prosecutors in that case have alleged that the shooter's parents bought the 9-millimeter handgun used in the massacre as an early Christmas present for their son, 16-year-old Ethan Crumbley, who faces terrorism and first-degree murder charges in the deaths of four classmates.

Investigators said the gun was kept in an unlocked drawer at the family home, but the parents' lawyers claim the Crumbleys did have the weapon secured and hidden.

Slotkin said she spent the day after the Uvalde shooting in Oxford, and "you could hear the pain that people felt in being re-traumatized by watching what was going on in Uvalde." 

The House also is expected to vote on a separate bill this week from Rep. Lucy McBath, a Georgia Democrat, that would create a national so-called “red flag” procedure for the federal courts that would let law enforcement or others seek orders for the temporary seizure of firearms.

Red-flag laws have drawn support from some Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, who introduced a bill with Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, in 2018 modeled after Indiana's red-flag law. 

That legislation would have provided $50 million a year in grants to 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. 

Senators in their continuing negotiations are reportedly considering a similar provision to incentivize states to adopt red-flag laws.

Slotkin said she is is turning her efforts to advocating for a Senate compromise that she hopes will include her gun storage text but would also expand and improve background checks to include anyone buying a weapon, including on the internet and at a gun show; raise the minimum age for buying an assault rifle; and funding for school safety and money for mental health.