(FOX 2) - Three new laws regulating firearm storage and access in Michigan will go into effect this week after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed them into office last year.
Starting Feb. 13, firearm owners will be required to keep any unattended weapons unloaded and locked or stored away in a gun safe if a child is in the home. Failing to do so will result in charges and a fine, depending on the outcome if a child gets possession of the firearm.
Enacting stricter rules around storing firearms will reduce unintentional shooting injuries among kids, the state says.
"Data shows firearms involved in unintentional firearm injury deaths among children and adolescents were often stored both loaded and unlocked, and children were most often fatally injured when the shooter was playing with or showing the firearm to others," said health department director Elizabeth Hertel.
The other two laws going into effect Tuesday include expanding universal background checks on all firearm purchases as well as authorizing a judge to order law enforcement to confiscate one's guns if they're deemed a risk to themselves or others.
"I am proud that our state has finally implemented new commonsense gun safety measures and am committed to using the resources of my office to educate residents about the new measures and support our communities through implementation," said state Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Michigan safe storage law
Michigan gun owners will be required to properly store a firearm when it is reasonably known that a minor is likely to be present at a home or premises.
The new secure storage law mandates anyone who owns a gun to ensure it's unloaded and locked with a proper locking device or stored in a locked box or container when someone under the age of 18 is at the residence.
Preventing unintentional deaths and injury among kids was the top priority among lawmakers when they amended the law in 2023. The health department cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a news release last week that said two-thirds of all unintentional firearm injury deaths among kids and teens happened when the shooter was playing with a gun or showing it to someone.
More than three-quarters of the time a gun is used in an unintentional death, it was kept in an unlocked safe. In more than 90% of those cases, the gun was also loaded.
In 2020, firearms became the primary cause of death among kids in the U.S. and Michigan, surpassing motor vehicle deaths as the top reason.
If a child does get access to a gun, there are varying punishments for the owner depending on the outcome:
- If the minor possesses or exhibits the firearm in a public place or possesses or exhibits the firearm in the presence of another person in a careless, reckless or threatening manner: a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for up to 93 days or a fine of up to $500, or both.
- If the minor discharges the firearm and injures themselves or another individual: a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to five years or a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
- If the minor discharges the firearm and inflicts serious impairment of a body function on themselves or another individual: a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years or a fine of up to $7,500, or both.
- If the minor discharges the firearm and inflicts death on themselves or another individual: a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
There have been several instances of a child having access to a gun with tragic circumstances following, including in the Oxford High School shooting when the parents of the shooter took questionable measures to securing the three firearms in the home.
Expanded background checks
Anyone seeking to purchase any kind of firearm will be subject to a background check in Michigan.
The expanded universal background check essentially replaced the word "pistol" with "firearm" to allow for checks on all kinds of guns, including rifles and shotguns. The previous background check procedure only required them when someone was purchasing a handgun.
The new law does not subject gun owners who had previously bought a gun that isn't a pistol to a background check.
New ‘Red Flag’ laws
Under Public Act 38, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act gives a judge authority to order law enforcement to seize an individual's guns if the court finds they pose a "significant risk of personal injury to himself or herself or others by possessing a firearm."
If the order is authorized, it would prohibit the individual that is the subject of the judge's decision from possessing or purchasing a firearm.
In order for someone to be targeted for an extreme risk protection order (ERPO), also known as a "red flag law", the request would have to come from a specified individual like a spouse or a family member.
Those allowed to petition a court to remove someone's weapons include:
- The spouse of the respondent
- A former spouse of the respondent
- An individual who has a child in common with the respondent
- An individual who has or has had a dating relationship with the respondent
- An individual who resides or has resided in the same household with the respondent
- A family member
- A guardian of the respondent
- A law enforcement officer
- A mental health professional.
They'd be required to reveal facts that show why an ERPO is necessary because the subject poses a significant risk of personal injury to themselves or someone else by possessing a gun. If an ERPO is authorized, a timeline outlining a hearing on the order, its issuance, and its service to the individual would be required.
If filed with a court, a judge would have to expedite the hearing, according to the law.
But for a judge to move on a request to take away someone's weapons, there are several issues that would need to be considered:
- Evidence of mental illness
- Any previous extreme risk protection orders
- A previous or existing probation or pretrial release order
- Any previous or existing criminal charge
- Drug or alcohol use
- Concerning statements made by the respondent that are subject to the order
- Any history of use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force by the respondent
If a law enforcement agency is ordered to seize someone's firearms, they would be required to obtain all guns and ammo identified in the order, as well as any others that were discovered during the order.
Police would be tasked with retaining and storing the seized materials.
After an order is carried out, the individual that's the subject of the ERPO could file a motion to modify or rescind the order. They could then make their case at a hearing on the motion.
Anyone who refuses to comply with an ERPO would be subject to penalties that vary from jail time to paying fines. Someone who violates the law three or more times could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.