Gun rights supporters in the Michigan House are working to decriminalize certain firearm-related offenses as part of a larger effort to roll back regulations on gun ownership and use in the state.
House Republicans named protecting second amendment rights as one of its top priorities this session. So far, many of the gun-related bills taken up for hearings focus on reducing existing penalties for violating Michigan’s current gun laws or removing restrictions on certain gun use.
In the House, legislation that would decrease the punishment for carrying a concealed pistol with an expired license from a felony punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a $2,500 fine or both to a civil fine of $330 if the license had lapsed in the previous year passed on the floor with bipartisan support.
Another bill that would let a person transport a loaded shotgun on private property in a car, all terrain vehicle or four wheeler also cleared the House floor.
Another pair of bills recently passed out of the House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee, House Bills 4200 and 4201, would reduce the penalty for carrying a concealed weapon in prohibited areas to a civil infraction for the first offense.
Currently, state law mandates punishments based on the number of offenses of carrying concealed in prohibited areas like schools, churches, sports arenas and hospitals. A first offense is a civil infraction punishable by up to a $500 fine and a six-month license suspension, a second offense is a misdemeanor coupled with revocation of the person’s concealed pistol license and a third offense is a felony.
As introduced, those bills would have made any violation a civil infraction punishable by up to a $100 fine, with no license suspensions.
Amendments made at the committee level made the first offense a $250 civil infraction, but made the second violation a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine, 90 days imprisonment and the possibility of a license revocation. A third offense committed within a five-year period would be a felony punishable by 2 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $5,000 and revocation of the person’s license.
Those amendments won the bills preliminary support from two of the committee’s Democrats, Reps. Jewell Jones of Detroit and John Chirkun of Roseville. The bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee for additional review under a new two-step committee process in a 7-2 vote.
When initially discussing the bill in committee, Chirkun said he was open to reducing penalties for first or second-time offenders, but said a person who’s been caught a third time carrying concealed in a prohibited area “needs to go to jail as far as I’m concerned.”
“If a guy makes a mistake once, shame on them,” he said. “Whoever has that gun and gets caught the third time in a gun free zone, they’re stupid. That’s the bottom line.”
Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, chairs the House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee. He isn’t shy about his belief that there should be less restrictions on carrying weapons in Michigan, and has sponsored several bills to that effect this session.
He said he realizes he and most Democrats – including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer – don’t see eye-to-eye on gun policies, but is hopeful the prospect of decriminalizing certain aspects of the state’s gun laws will appeal across the aisle.
“Putting people in jail for silly violations do nothing to help – and in this case, do nothing but hinder – public safety,” he said. “We’re going to see what we can get to the governor’s desk that she will be interested in, or at least begrudgingly sign,” he said.
Gideon D’Assandro, spokesperson for House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said the speaker sees overlap between gun rights issues and ongoing criminal justice reform efforts, another of the caucus’ top priorities this session.
“A lot of this is not just expanding access – it’s decriminalizing what are superfluous penalties,” he said.
It’s unclear how those efforts will fare if they ultimately reach the governor’s desk.
Zach Pohl, Whitmer’s communications director, said in a statement that the administration considers gun violence to be a public health crisis, adding the governor “looks forward to working with the legislature to implement common-sense gun violence prevention issues that will help to keep our communities safe.”
“While no single law will completely eliminate all types of gun violence, we know that putting laws into effect and strengthening existing laws that work to reduce gun violence saves lives,” Pohl said.
Legislative Democrats have introduced several plans of their own to modify the state’s gun laws – a bicameral package introduced in February would let Michigan judges issue an “extreme risk protection order” temporarily preventing a person from buying or possessing a gun if law enforcement or family members can prove they pose a serious risk.
Another set of bills introduced by House Democrats would make unsafe storage of a firearm a misdemeanor and exempt firearm safety devices from sales and use taxes.
Neither of those bill packages have been taken up for a hearing.
State Rep. Mari Manoogian, D-Birmingham, is one of the lead sponsors on the gun storage legislation, and sits on the House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee. She said she’s not convinced the proposals to lessen penalties for violating gun laws already on the books in the state would be beneficial.
“It’s a trend to make it easier for folks to own a firearm and do so irresponsibly,” she said. “When my constituents look at this…the response has been overwhelmingly against chipping away slowly at any sort of restrictions.”
To become law, bills need to pass the House and Senate and be signed by the governor.
Read more about some of the gun-related bills introduced in the Michigan legislature this session:
- House Bill 4434: Sponsored by Republican Rep. Matt Hall, this bill would reduce the penalty for carrying a concealed pistol on an expired license from a felony to a civil fine, if the license expired within the a year. The bill has passed the House and is before the Senate Government Operations Committee.
- House bills 4283, 4284 and 4285 and Senate Bills 156, 157 and 158: Sponsored by Democratic Reps. Robert Wittenberg, Jon Hoadley and Julie Brixie in the House and Sens. Mallory McMorrow, Erika Geiss and Rosemary Bayer, the legislation would allow immediate family members, current and former spouses or partners, roommates and law enforcement to ask a judge for an order to temporarily take possession of a person’s firearms and prevent them from buying new ones while the order is in effect. The legislation was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Government Operations Committee, respectively.
- House Bills 4200 and 4201: Sponsored by Republican Rep. Gary Eisen, the bills would modify penalties for concealed pistol license holders carrying concealed firearms in gun-free zones – including schools, churches, day care centers, bars, dormitories and stadiums. The bills were passed through the House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee and are now before the House Judiciary Committee.
- House Bill 4295: Also sponsored by Eisen, this bill would add concealed pistol license instructors to the list of people who could legally carry a concealed weapon in gun-free zones. The bill was referred to the House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee.
- House Bills 4026 and 4029: Sponsored by Rep. Steve Johnson, House Bill 4029 would allow a person to carry a concealed pistol or hunting knife without a permit. House Bill 4026, sponsored by Rep. Beau Lafave, would allow license holders to carry concealed pistols in gun-free zones. The bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
- House Bill 4331: Sponsored by LaFave, this bill would allow a person to transport a loaded shotgun on private property in a car, all terrain vehicle or four wheeler. The legislation passed the House and was referred to the Senate Government Operations Committee.
- House bills 4512, 4513 and 4514: Sponsored by Democratic Reps. Rebekah Warren and Mari Manoogian, the bills would make unsafe storage of a firearm a misdemeanor and exempt firearm safety devices from sales and use taxes. The bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
- House Bills 4501, 4502, 4503, 4504: Sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Lilly, the bills would prohibit firearm use if a person has 2 nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood in their system. The bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
- House Bills 4021 and 4022: Sponsored by Republican Reps. Michele Hoitenga and LaFave, House Bill 4021 would provide an option to apply for a lifetime concealed pistol license, and 4022 would lower the concealed pistol application and licensing fee to $40. The bills were referred to the House Government Operations Committee.
- House Bills 4497, 4498 and 4499: Sponsored by Republican Rep. Daire Rendon and Democratic Rep. John Chirkun, the legislation would make it a felony for a person convicted of domestic violence to possess or use a firearm. The bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
- House Bill 4097: Also sponsored by Rendon, the bill would allow retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons in gun-free zones. The bill was referred to the House Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee.
- House Bill 4690: Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Kara Hope, this bill would require gun ranges and other shooting facilities to check a person’s concealed pistol license or run a background check before renting out firearms to a prospective customer. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.