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Florida shooting could revive bills to take guns from potentially dangerous owners

A gun lying on a table with bullets around it.
Daniel Weber

State lawmakers might soon consider bills that would let courts temporarily take guns away from gun owners they considered to be dangerous to other people or themselves.

The bills were introduced to the legislature last summer by Rep. Robert Wittenberg, D-Huntington Woods. Wittenberg’s bills (HBs 4706 and 4707) have languished in a legislative committee ever since. But after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 people were killed, Wittenberg is urging his colleagues to consider a legislative effort that he says would help prevent future tragedies if it becomes law.  

“If we had this in place in Florida, law enforcement would be able to take that person's weapon away,” Wittenberg said Tuesday on Michigan Radio’s Stateside program. “And we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now because we wouldn’t have lost 17 lives.”

Wittenberg’s bills call for allowing family members or law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily take away any guns owned by a person who poses a threat to other people, or themselves. The bills call such a request an “Extreme Risk Protection Order.” According to a press release from the introduction of the bills to the legislature last June, the courts could only take someone’s guns away for up to a year under such an order.

Wittenberg says there would be penalties for anyone who filed frivolous requests. The process for an Extreme Risk Protection Order would be a court hearing, where evidence and testimony would be heard for the courts to consider what threat a gun owner owner posed.  

“We don’t take this lightly, but we know this is a way to prevent these tragedies from happening,” Wittenberg said.

Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, chairs the House Judiciary Committee, where the bills would be considered. Wittenberg says he talked to Runestad Monday, and he’s “cautiously optimistic” the bills could get a hearing. Runestad’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

“I had a conversation with Rep. Runestad yesterday, and he said he’s willing to read it and take a look,” Wittenberg said.

Five states reportedly have similar laws, sometimes called “red flag” laws: California, Connecticut, Washington and Indiana. Some nationally prominent Republicans like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are now expressing support for similar legislation at the state government level in states.

This story was edited to correct an error about who may make a request of the court for gun seizures and to correct misspellings of the legislator's name.

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.
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