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Stateside Podcast: Gun reform still stalled in Michigan

Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

After news broke that 19 children were gunned down at their elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Michigan State Senator Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) started talking with her counterparts in Texas and with her own constituents. Her district includes Oxford Township, where the mass shooting at Oxford High earlier this school year remains a fresh wound.

Many schoolchildren in her district, she said, stayed home today due to fear, grief, and reactivated trauma. Some have been scared to return to school and other public places for months.

Bayer co-chairs the state Legislature’s Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus, and she’s frustrated that Republican leadership has ignored a raft of gun control bills that Democrats introduced both before and after the Oxford shooting.

“We assumed that that would cause some kind of activity,” she said, but it hasn’t. The bills haven’t even been heard in committee.

“So many schools had to close in the following months because of what happened in Oxford. Kids were asking their parents, is it safe to go to school? And it's astonishing to me, to all the Democrats actually in the Capitol here, how can you continue to ignore that?”

Michigan policy remains stagnant even as child gun death rates continue a steady rise.

Firearms are now the leading cause of death for American children, surpassing motor vehicle crash deaths for the first time in 2020 according to an analysis of CDC data published inThe New England Journal of Medicine

That analysis also found that gun deaths are increasing more dramatically among children and teens than among adults.

“In the past year, we've seen almost a 14% increase in firearm deaths across the entire population. However, we've seen a 30% rise specifically among children and teens under the age of 20,” said Dr. Patrick Carter, an author of the study and the co-director University of Michigan's Injury Prevention Center.

The majority of child firearm deaths are homicides, representing 65% of the total. Suicides make up most of the rest, at 30%. The remaining small fraction are categorized as unintentional.

Michigan data mirrors national trends across communities, Carter said.“We know that especially in our rural communities, our rates of suicide have been going up. We know that in our urban settings, our rates of homicide have been going up.”

Child firearm deaths have increased at the same time as childhood motor vehicle crash deaths have decreased.

Our success with car safety can provide a model for gun safety, Carter said, if researchers and policymakers focus on implementing holistic, evidence-based responses.

“For example, if we are able to improve locked storage so that teens cannot get access to firearms we could significantly decrease unintentional deaths as well as self-inflicted deaths” that happen when teens get gun access during crisis moments, said Carter.

Many of the stalled Michigan bills propose evidence-based solutions like safe storage measures and “red flag laws” that are also broadly popular with voters, including Republicans and gun owners.

“These are the same ideas that other states have tried or have succeeded,” Senator Bayer said. She added that her caucus will keep talking about these solutions and reintroducing bills for as long as it takes.

“We're going to not let go of this until they just finally get tired of hearing us.”


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Elizabeth Harlow is an Assistant Producer for Stateside.
Erin Allen comes to Michigan Radio as a new producer for the station’s Stateside show. She is an experienced communicator driven by her curiosity about stories of people.