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Safe storage proposal looks to tackle gun suicides among youth

March 3, 2023
Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

A bill introduced in the state legislature criminalizes improperly storing a firearm where it may be accessed by a minor.

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Keego Harbor, said this bill targets protecting minors from inflicting injury or death upon themselves or others. These kind of gun control measures are referred to as "safe storage" rules.

The safe storage bill is one of 11 bills introduced in a package spurred by a recent mass shooting at Michigan State University on Feb. 13. Students have held multiple sit-ins and other protests calling for legislative action to prevent gun violence.

The proposed safe storage rule would require gun owners who plan to leave a firearm unattended near a minor, whether in their own home or elsewhere, to either store the firearm in a locked container or unload the firearm and render it inoperable using the proper lock.

In an environment outside of the individual’s control, the firearm must be locked in the glove box of the individual’s vehicle.

The bill says that an individual that does not secure their weapon and a minor uses it to inflict death upon themselves or others would be guilty of a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison or a fine of up to $7,500 or both. If a minor obtains the weapon and uses it to inflict non-fatal injury upon themselves or others, the individual faces a felony and up to 5 years in prison or a fine of $5,000 or both. If the weapon is obtained and no injury occurs, punishment for the owner of the weapon would either be 93 days in prison or $500 or both.

Pew Research Center found that suicides accounted for more than half of U.S. gun deaths in 2020. University of Michigan Professor Cynthia Ewell Foster said the country loses too many kids each year to suicide by firearm. Ewell Foster's research focuses on youth depression and suicide and works for the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention.

Ewell Foster said increasing the time and distance between a weapon and a person experiencing a mental health crisis can increase the likelihood that they survive and limits the amount of harm they can inflict upon themselves. Based on the frequency of these types of suicides occurring, she said that this is a public health crisis.

“That’s really what keeps me up at night, is this idea that if they couldn’t get their hands on that [weapon], they would probably still be with us,” Ewell Foster said.

This sentiment was echoed by MSU School of Criminal Justice Professor Edmund McGarrell. In an email, McGarrell said criminologists follow a situational crime prevention theory that says making a potential criminal act more difficult can make it less likely to occur.

McGarrell said many violent acts are relatively spontaneous and if the person likely to offend has difficulty accessing the gun, the risk is lower for the act to be committed.

“The available research suggests that safe storage laws are promising for reducing suicides and preventing accidental shootings, particularly by youth,” McGarrell said in the email.

Bayer said she would like to be able to hold gun owners accountable when they leave their weapons around minors without securely storing them.

Though there is anxiety that various county prosecutors may not enforce the law if voted into passage, Sen. Bayer said the safe storage bill protects law enforcement officers from entering into a situation where someone is weaponized.

“It protects [police] too, Bayer said. "They don’t like going places where there’s guns."

In terms of bipartisan support, Bayer said she hopes her fellow legislators listen to the voices of their constituents rather than lobbying influences that may not represent the interests of voters.

“I personally always try to get both sides of the aisle onto my work because it does prove that it’s important for all the people in Michigan … not just the ones that are in our party.”

Dr. Ewell Foster said that although policy is an important piece of negating the frequency of gun-related deaths or injuries, it will take the expertise and backgrounds of several disciplines to end this crisis.

Reps. Jamie Thompson, R-Brownstown, Mike Hoadley, R-Au Gres, Mark Tisdal, R-Rochester Hills and Kathy Schmaltz, R-Jackson were not available for comment at time of publication.

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