Column: ‘Extreme risk’ bills about safety

Robert Wittenberg

We’re living in a time when the divisions in America seem as deep and wide as they have ever been. It’s hard to turn on the nightly news without getting confirmation that Americans have retreated to their ideological corners and refuse to come out to reason with one another on anything that matters. Don’t believe it.

Even when it comes to issues long believed to be untouchable — like gun safety — there is more that unites us than divides us. For instance, 88 percent of Michiganians support universal criminal background checks, according to a recent SurveyUSA poll, and 91 percent support our state’s Concealed Pistol License for carrying a concealed gun in public. It’s hard to find that much agreement on virtually anything. But more than ever, the eyes of the nation are open and watching. People are hungry for change.

Those found to be a risk for committing violence against others or themselves should not have access to dangerous weapons, period. That’s the reasoning behind my Extreme Risk Protection Order bills, also known as “red flag” bills (House Bills 4706-4707), now before the House Judiciary Committee. A recent EPIC/MRA poll found that 70 percent of Michiganders support the bill, and just 10 percent are opposed. Gov. Rick Snyder has publicly stated his support for it.

People across our country are weary with heartache from watching one tragic incident after another where innocent lives have been cut short by deranged people with access to deadly weapons. After the last massacre in Florida, parents in Michigan gathered their children close and wondered whether their schools would be next, and how that might be prevented.

While we can’t predict where and when these tragedies might happen, we should do all that we can to help prevent them.

Under my red flag bill, only a person who is proven to be a danger to themselves or others could be subjected to an extreme risk protection order. Even then, a family member, someone in a close relationship, a former spouse or co-parent of that person — or a law enforcement officer — would have to convince a judge to issue the order, which prohibits the defendant from purchasing or possessing a firearm for a period of up to one year. In certain circumstances, the court could order the temporary seizure of firearms the defendant currently owns.

To be granted, the court would have to be convinced with clear evidence. There would also be an appeals process in place so that a defendant could challenge an order they believed to be unfair. This would provide safety and freedom from fear for those who had been targets of violence, while protecting the Second Amendment rights of lawful firearms owners.

The bill is not about coming after all citizens’ lawfully owned guns. It’s not about making an end run around the Second Amendment. And it’s not about increasing government power at the expense of your freedom.

It is about the freedom of knowing that your child will come home safely after you send him/her off to school in the morning. It’s about having the common sense to take away some of the most lethal weapons from people who make threats to use them against others. It’s about making our communities safe.

This isn’t difficult. Explaining to your child why they won’t ever see their best friend again — that’s hard. Saying goodbye to your child forever — that’s impossible.

Rep. Robert Wittenberg, D-Huntington Woods, represents Michigan's 27th House district and chairs the Michigan Gun Violence Prevention Caucus.