A part of its Annual Gun Law Scorecard, the California-based Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence ranks all 50 states on a multi-point gun safety rubric and issues both a ranking and letter grade to each. Last month the 25-year-old nonprofit issued Michigan a “C” grade for 2018, ranking it as the 16th highest state in the nation regarding gun law strength, but placing it at 37th regarding nationwide gun deaths. The Center’s Legal Director Laura Cutilletta said that despite its relatively low score, the “good news” for Michigan is that there are many ways the state can improve its standing. She said the most common approach states takes to do so is by implementing “child access prevention laws.”
“Those are laws that hold gun owners accountable when they store guns in a way that allows children to gain access to them,” Cutilletta said. “Michigan does have this law, but it’s a fairly weak version of the law, so it doesn’t get very many points on our scorecard.”
As it stands today, Michigan parents are only penalized for children accessing their guns if they bring them onto school property with their knowledge. However, in states like California that have received “A” ratings, those laws are more comprehensive and prohibit the negligent storage of a firearm, even if a child doesn’t gain access. Cutilletta also recommended the enactment of background checks when purchasing firearms from a licensed dealer — something not required when purchased from an unlicensed person.
“Most of the states, I think maybe seven of the 10 states that have the lowest gun death rates, they’ve all passed background checks and Michigan has not. So, that would be the number one thing it could do, but there are a lot of other things,” she said. “They could also require a license to purchase a gun or to own a gun and some states do and that’s been proven to be effective.”
Cutilletta added that imposing a waiting period before transferring a firearm and limiting the number of firearms that could be purchased at a time also impacts gun injury and death rates significantly.
The U.S. Relative to Michigan
In 2017, the Center found that 109 people died each day from gun violence, resulting in almost 40,000 total gun deaths. According to the New York Times, when adjusted for population, that statistic brings 2017 to the highest spike in gun deaths since the 1990s. According to Center statistics, strengthening background checks, implementing child access prevention laws, passing extreme risk protection order laws and banning military-style weapons are all methods to fight future data jumps.
However, despite the recent rise in gun deaths, Cutilletta said that 2018 was a landmark year for progress regarding gun safety legislation, in part because of activism on behalf of victims of mass shootings like those in Parkland, Florida.
“This was a record year for the number of gun laws that were enacted to strengthen regulation. And there were 67 gun laws enacted this year in 26 states and D.C. and those were all laws that strengthened gun laws,” Cutilletta said. “There were a few victories by the gun lobby but it was limited, and they weren’t able to get their biggest priorities like allowing guns without a permit and allowing guns on campuses. And they weren’t able to get any of those bills enacted in 2018, so we’ve definitely seen a huge surge of activism and lawmakers taking action on this issue in 2018.”
But as significant as last year’s strides were, there’s still a long road to improved scores and lowered gun death and injury nationwide. Perhaps one of the most striking pieces of data surrounding Michigan in the Center’s report is its hugely “disproportionate impact on communities of color.”
“Black men make up just 7 percent of Michigan’s population, but account for nearly 72 percent of the state’s gun homicide victims,” read the report. “In Michigan, black men ages 18 to 24 are more than 44 times more likely than white men the same age to be murdered with a gun.”
Compared to national statics in 2014, Michigan still outpaces the national average where for young black men, who at that time made up 7 percent of the national population, “the murder rate is close to 90 homicides per 100,000 people — nearly 20 times the national average.”
Targeting Urban Violence
Cutilletta said that one of the ways the Center is targeting urban violence in communities of color is through a three-year-old initiative that involves a multi-tiered approach.
“Often in cities, there are a small group of people that are responsible for the shootings. You can even isolate it neighborhood by neighborhood and block by block and it’s usually not a huge number of people that are responsible and who are perpetually the victims or the perpetrators,” she said. “There’s different ways of doing it. It involves policing, it involves going into hospitals immediately after someone’s’ been shot to work with the victim so that they don’t become the next perpetrator in retaliation, providing services to different groups of people so that there’s an alternative to them from just life on the streets, and those programs are really, really, proving to be effective in Oakland [California] and they’ve been effective in other states.”
Cutilletta said that not only do programs like that end up saving lives and preventing further incidents, they actually save states money overall, which is one of the lead arguments the Center has for aiding gun violence prevention.
“We’re really pushing this year especially that states fund these kinds of programs. For a very nominal amount of money, a state can actually end up saving a huge amount of money in the costs of gun violence in all the health care costs, and the law enforcement and all of the government services that are utilized when somebody’s been shot,” she said, adding that sometimes that’s the best way to get through to people who might feel that it’s “not their issue.”
“We do find that people turn a blind eye to these issues,” Cutilletta said. “So, that’s why we do use the costs the financial gain of investment to ignore a much larger cost later as a way to get through to some people who might not pay attention otherwise, who feel like it’s not their problem, who don’t live in the city.”
Cutilletta said that part of the reason some people aren’t receptive to legislation targeted at preventing gun violence is because of unfounded fears that mass firearm seizures are the ultimate goal of gun safety advocates.
“It is a misconception to be sure. It is a fear that, frankly, the National Rifle Association stokes intentionally,” she said. “But is absolutely not something that is our goal at all, or really any of the groups that are working on this. And one thing that I think is important to note is that in these states that have ‘A’ grades, that hasn’t happened. California’s had very strong gun laws for 30 years and not a single law-abiding person has had their gun confiscated. I’m sure there have been errors that have been made and rectified, but there’s not been any intentional efforts to confiscate guns from law-abiding people. So, that’s a perfect thing, I think, to point out to people who are worried about that.”
According to an April 2017 study done by Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans, roughly six in 10, feel that gun laws should be stricter, 31 percent feel that they are already adequate and 11 percent feel they’re overstepping boundaries. What is clear in the report is that the issue is hugely partisan, especially regarding thoughts on the impact of gun ownership regarding mass shootings and general impact on crime.
“Partisans are also deeply divided over whether it is more important to control gun ownership or protect gun rights, according to the same survey,” the study said. “Around three-quarters of Republicans (76 percent) say it’s more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns than it is to control gun ownership, while just 19 percent of Democrats agree. That 57-percentage-point partisan gap is up from a 29-point gap in 2008.”
Despite the seeming increase in divisiveness on certain matters, however, Pew did find that regarding potential gun owners with mental illnesses and those who are on federal no-fly lists both Republicans and Democrats mostly in agreement. Also regarding background checks for private gun sales and at gun shows. Perhaps another sign of the impact of activism on behalf of mass shooting survivors.
For those who are interested in learning more about gun violence, its impact and ways to prevent its spread, Cutilletta recommended looking for local gun violence prevention groups.
“In a lot of states, including Michigan, there are state groups [to join and] that’s probably the best thing to do,” she said. “The Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence is one, and online they have a tab that says ‘get involved’ and it says how to join.”
Along with finding local groups, the Giffords Law Center also has a resources tab online, too, including not only facts and national events, but information on model laws, designed to aid activists in states like Michigan who are looking to present public safety legislation that’s been shown to be effective in the past. Cutilletta said that these model laws come from the quarter of a century that the Center has been ranking states and their gun safety across the nation and putting out its annual scorecard.
“We’re looking at gun violence from the public health approach which really focuses on prevention as though you were looking at a disease from spreading,” she said. “So, as part of that approach, we’ve identified about 30, 35 different policies and we have weighted them according to the impact that each policy has based on studies that exist.”
To find out more about The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence go online to lawcenter.giffords.org. Find The Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence online at michigancoalitiontopreventgunviolence.org or find them on Facebook.