New gun laws take effect on one-year anniversary of Michigan State University shooting

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Professor Marco Díaz-Muñoz spent the past year trying to suppress the images, seared into his memory, of the gunman who entered his classroom at Michigan State University, killed two of his students and left others with critical wounds.

He expects a flood of emotions this week on the anniversary of the Feb. 13, 2023 mass shooting, which also claimed the life of a third student at the university union and terrorized the East Lansing campus for nearly four hours.

“It was the sixth week. It was February. The class was from 7 to 9 in the evening. It was cold. And I’m going to be teaching the exact same lecture and lesson,” Díaz-Muñoz told The Associated Press. “So everything I do is going to remind me of what happened.”

Tuesday's classes were canceled and a remembrance gathering was planned for the three students who lost their lives — Brian Fraser, Arielle Anderson and Alexandria Verner.

Tuesday also is when Michigan's sweeping new gun regulations take effect, implementing background checks for all gun purchases, safe storage requirements and red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.

“The tragedy cannot be undone,” said Díaz-Muñoz, who testified in favor of the new laws. “There’s nothing that can compensate for that. But there is hope in moving forward and pushing forward for change.”

Anyone who wants to buy a gun in Michigan must now pass a background check, and gun owners must safely store all firearms and ammunition in the presence of minors.

The red flag law enables family members, police, mental health professionals, roommates and former dating partners to petition a judge to remove firearms from people who they believe pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

The three new laws were a part of a sweeping gun safety package that had been initially drafted after the 2021 Oxford High School shooting in which four students died and others, including a teacher, were wounded.

A Michigan jury convicted that shooter's mother of involuntary manslaughter last week, making her the first parent in the U.S. to be held responsible for a child carrying out a mass school shooting. Gun accessibility was an issue in the trial and investigators say Jennifer and James Crumbley failed to properly secure the gun. James Crumbley faces trial on the same charge next month.

Initially stalled in 2021 with the Legislature under Republican control, the gun safety package gained momentum after Democrats secured the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. The MSU shooting intensified efforts, with Oxford and MSU students rallying at the Capitol to demand stricter gun laws.

“Once we won the majority, we knew we were going to be able to pass these laws. So our plan was to get it ready as quickly as we could, try to get the packages through the Senate,” said state Sen. Rosemary Bayer, who represented Oxford and has been a leading advocate for gun control.

“Then Michigan State happened, and the governor just looked at us and said, ‘I want to do it right now,’” Bayer said.

Safe storage and background checks were approved two months after the MSU shooting, following weeks of testimony from those impacted by the shootings and other gun violence. The red flag law was more controversial, and was signed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer just over a month later.

And in November, Whitmer signed yet another a measure that prohibits individuals with domestic violence convictions — even misdemeanors — from possessing firearms for at least eight years.

Gun control advocates aren't done: MSU students plan to meet with lawmakers and stage a sit-in at the Capitol on Thursday “to demand continued action on gun violence prevention."

Democrats are on record as willing to go further, with some leaders open to banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. They will likely need to wait until after April, however, with the state House being deadlocked temporarily due to two Democratic representatives stepping down.

Questions linger over how well the new laws will be implemented. The red flag measure has faced local pushback in a state where gun-owning culture runs deep. Over half the state’s counties have passed resolutions declaring themselves Second Amendment “sanctuaries,” opposing laws they believe infringe on gun rights.

Red flag laws have been touted as the most powerful tools to stop gun violence before it happens, but an Associated Press analysis in 2022 found that they are barely used in the states where they exist. Firearms were removed from people 15,049 times since 2020, but that's fewer than 10 per 100,000 adult residents, far too rare to make a dent in the death toll, according to the analysis.

“I view it as a beginning,” Díaz-Muñoz said. “The violence and the epidemic that we’re seeing is symptomatic of something else. And until we address that something else, there’s no amount of gun laws that can prevent completely, or minimize more significantly, what is happening.”

02/12/2024 21:32 -0500

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