LANSING, Mich. – Armed with two handguns and dozens of rounds of ammunition, 43-year-old Anthony McRae open fired on the Michigan State University campus on the night of Feb. 13, killing three students and wounding five more.
The mass shooting has pushed Michigan Democrats, who had already planned to prioritize changes to gun laws, into action.
Democrats are expected to bring a sweeping 11-bill gun safety package before the Michigan Legislature this week, emboldened by their sweeping victories in statewide elections in November that gave them legislative control. Responding to two mass school shootings in 15 months, the party's leaders say it is only the beginning of gun reform in the state.
“Nothing is off the table,” said Democratic state Sen. Rosemary Bayer, who leads the firearm safety caucus. “But every state has a culture. So I think we’re trying to be conscious of Michigan and how we do things.”
The package aims to establish safe storage laws, universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders, also known as red flag laws. Lawmakers will consider the package less than three years after protesters armed with guns entered the statehouse.
“Tyrannical government, like we're witnessing here today, is why the Second Amendment is here in the first place,” Republican Rep. Angela Rigas said on the House floor prior to Democrats voting to approve universal background checks last week.
The bills were introduced in the days following the shooting at Michigan State University. Students across the vast campus were ordered to shelter in place for four hours while police hunted for McRae who — when confronted by police — killed himself near his Lansing home.
Students killed in the shooting were Arielle Anderson, 19; Brian Fraser, 20; and Alexandria Verner, 20, all of suburban Detroit.
Much of the package was crafted by Democrats nearly 15 months ago following a shooting at Oxford High School that left four students dead and seven others injured. The bills saw little movement with Republicans controlling the House and Senate.
But now, with Democrats in full control of state government for the first time in decades, the bills quickly came before House and Senate committees earlier this month. Gun violence survivors and the families of victims packed committee meeting rooms and gave tearful testimony to lawmakers.
"I’m not asking for your pity. I’m asking for your change,” Oxford High School senior Reina St. Juliana told lawmakers during a hearing March 2. St. Juliana’s younger sister, Hana, was killed in the Oxford shooting.
Krista Grettenberger attended a hearing Wednesday to tell lawmakers about a phone call she received Feb. 13 from her 21-year-old son, MSU student Troy Forbush.
“My son called my cellphone and said: 'I love you mom. I've been shot. There's a shooter,'" Grettenberger said. Forbush was critically injured in the shooting, but survived.
“We are victim of a failed system that can’t keep guns from those who aim to inflict devastating harm,” Grettenberger said.
Mass shootings across the U.S. in recent years seem to have widen the political divide on gun ownership. In Democratic-led states with restrictive gun laws, elected officials have responded to home-state tragedies by enacting and proposing even more limits on guns. In many states with Republican-led legislatures, the shootings appear unlikely to prompt any new restrictions this year, reflecting a belief that violent people, not their possession of weapons, is the problem.
Michigan law requires someone buying firearms such as rifles or shotguns to be 18 years or older and at least 21 years old to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed dealer. Certain licenses allow 18-year-olds to purchase handguns from private sellers.
Police said they found dozens of rounds of ammunition on McRae, the MSU shooter, in addition to two handguns that were legally purchased but never registered. Legislation passed in the House Wednesday would address that loophole, shifting the responsibility to perform the background check and register the firearm with police onto the seller.
Democrats say safe storage and red flag laws could have stopped the Oxford attack.
“The whole story of Oxford was this kid just grabbed his parents' gun and took it to school and it wasn’t locked up. There was no safe, there was no gun lock. There was no check on this kid,” said U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who represents East Lansing.
The student accused in the shooting when he was just 15, Ethan Crumbley, has pleaded guilty to killing four fellow students and wounding seven other people using a gun that he said was purchased by his father.
James and Jennifer Crumbley are charged with involuntary manslaughter. They’re accused of making the gun accessible to their son and failing to reasonably care for Ethan when he showed signs of mental distress.
Bayer told The Associated Press that she expects legislation implementing universal background checks and safe storage laws to quickly make it through the state Senate, but that Democrats are "still working on" red flag laws.
Republicans argue that current gun laws need to be better enforced, not altered. A former prosecutor dropped a felony charge against McRae in 2019 that would have barred him from owning a firearm.
“If they don’t pick up a gun, they could drive a car into a school. We need to try to find the mental health for these individuals,” Republican state Rep. Luke Meerman told AP. “If they’ve had some kind of criminal history, we have to make sure that they’re getting right sentences or that they're okay to come out of prison.”
Senate Republican Leader Aric Nesbitt and House Republican Leader Matt Hall did not respond to questions from the AP, including whether they planned to support the package.