Future of Michigan gun-free zones proposal in question

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday she wasn’t sure if she would support a gun safety bill that would allow local governments more control over where guns would be permitted, something members of the city of Detroit’s administration have been advocating for following a recent spate of gun violence in the city.

“I have not had an opportunity to explore what is driving the legislation and what the impact would be,” Whitmer said, adding that she recently signed other laws that would require background checks for firearms and the safe storage of both guns and ammunition. “As far as this particular bill, I’ve yet to really roll my sleeves up and make sure I’m ready to give you an opinion on whether or not I would sign it.”

The proposal, Senate Bill 208, would give local governments the ability to prohibit the possession of firearms on property owned or leased by that government. Sen. Jeff Irwin, a sponsor of the legislation, said it would apply to everything from city halls to parks.

The bill has been introduced and assigned to a committee but has not yet had a hearing. Irwin said he thought after Whitmer signed two laws — with a third on extreme risk protection orders expected — the state was in a gun control “lull.”

“Anything related to firearms, no matter how common sense it is, it’s hard to get it done,” Irwin said. “I’m hopeful we can have a sensible and sober discussion about keeping safety in our public spaces.”

Detroit Council Member Mary Waters introduced a resolution supporting the proposal; Council voted Tuesday to pass two resolutions, according to the Detroit Free Press. The first calls for urging state lawmakers to pass a senate bill that would provide municipalities control over establishing gun-free zones on public grounds and the second, more controversial, resolution calls for drafting a gun-free zone ordinance, complying with existing laws, and requiring public or private events of 500 people or more that receive a permit from the city to be established as gun-free zones.

In her resolution, Waters she said gun violence downtown “poses a threat to the health, welfare, and safety of residents and visitors to the City of Detroit.” She proposed the city designate the Detroit Riverfront, Greektown, Hart Plaza, Spirit Plaza, and Campus Martius as gun-free zones, “with public signage placed prominently for all to see.”

State law currently doesn’t allow the city to designate those or other areas as gun-free. The only gun-free areas in the state are schools or school property; daycares, childcare agencies or child placing centers; sports arenas or stadiums; taverns that make most of their money selling liquor by the glass; properties owned or operated by places of worship, unless they choose to allow concealed weapons; entertainment facilities with seating capacity of 2,500 people or more; hospitals; casinos; and dormitories or classrooms of colleges and universities. Guns are allowed in parking areas.

Last month, two people were killed and five injured in six shootings between Greektown and the Detroit RiverWalk. But Mayor Mike Duggan said then that Detroit didn’t have the ability to prohibit firearms in some high-traffic areas.

“The city doesn’t have a right to create gun-free zones,” he said then, adding that the administration was looking at additional screening that could help keep illegal weapons out of some public places. “We’re looking at a number of things. We create illegal-weapons-free zones all the time. … We’re looking to expand the strategy.”

On Tuesday, Duggan joined Whitmer to announce the state’s Operation Safe Neighborhoods program had seized 389 illegal guns, as well as drugs and ammunition and conducted almost 3,400 check-ins with felony offenders. In early December, she announced 205 guns had been seized.

Duggan called the violence that Detroit and the country are facing “just heartbreaking.” He said the city, county and state continue to rebuild the criminal justice system that ground to a halt during the coronavirus pandemic; he said there are cases that are two and three years old that have yet to go to trial, accused criminals who were released because of it and parole officers who ceased to meet face-to-face with residents who are on probation.

“Ultimately, we’re going to be tested not by the promises we make, but by what you’re going to see happening this summer,” he said.

He said he was convinced that additional resources from the state would “make a significant difference this summer.” Additionally, Duggan said, the city’s police force has benefited from $10,000 raises for officers; he said the 300 officer vacancies in January were down to 200 and he expected all the positions to be filled by the end of the year. The city’s Shotstopper program should be functional July 1, he added.

Whitmer said she had invested more than $1 billion in public safety since taking office and intended to spend half a billion dollars more in this year’s budget. Recommendations include $50.4 million to use the State Police Training Academy as a criminal justice training hub for law enforcement around the state, $10.8 million to establish the Office of Community Violence Intervention Services and $1.9 million to implement gun violence prevention policies.

“Protecting public safety is a team effort,” she said. “Together, we can build a safer, more just Michigan.”


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