Experts say the Oakland County prosecutor took an unusual step by charging the parents of the alleged shooter at Oxford High School with involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutor Karen McDonald says she did so in part because the 15-year-old suspect had easy access to a firearm bought by his parents.
Now Democratic State Sen. Rosemary Bayer, whose district includes Oxford High School, says she’s preparing legislation that would make it a felony if an unsecured gun is used to cause injury or death.
Bayer tells WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter lawmakers introduced similar legislation numerous times before.
But not, she says, with Michigan’s gun laws in the national spotlight.
Listen: Michigan Sen. Rosemary Bayer says there is growing pressure for responsible gun ownership legislation.
Michigan State Sen. Rosemary Bayer (edited for clarity): We have the hope that we might actually get a hearing this time. And there seems to be more growing pressure. Obviously having a school shooting here raises the visibility on all of this responsible gun ownership legislation. Even people that belong to the majority party who continues to resist this are getting calls from their constituents that it’s time for us to take up some of this legislation, at least start a conversation about how do we make sure our schools are safe.
Quinn Klinefelter, WDET News: When you talk about penalties for whether or not a weapon would be kept secure, how secure does “secure” actually mean? That the firearms need trigger locks, for example, or just be set in a locked drawer? How do you envision it?
It actually does give some leeway in what it means. You do have to make an effort to keep them safe, locked, not usable by your 5-year-old, right? So it does allow the owner to use their discretion on what that means. But we also are giving away gun locks. And we’re giving tax exemptions on any kind of storage device. We’re trying hard to make this palatable for gun owners. We’re just trying to make it safe.
The recent shooting at Oxford High School obviously is one of the reasons that this, as you say, might get some extra traction this time. In that case the prosecutor charged the alleged shooter’s parents with involuntary manslaughter. There’s been other cases where a child found a gun that was left in a shoe box, and they charged the person that was watching them in that case. What level do you think these penalties should actually be set at? Should they be at the level of involuntary manslaughter? Should there be a sliding scale?
The bill actually spells out it’s a five-year felony if a minor gets a hold of your firearm and does harm to themselves or others. Period. And the prosecutor here in Oakland County, who’s prosecuting that (Oxford High shooting) case, said, and I’ll quote her because I loved it, “Our laws in Michigan are woefully inadequate. Give me something I can use.” We need stronger laws here.
Again, in the Oxford case, the parents’ attorneys argue that their gun was kept securely away from their son. And, as you say, the prosecutor argues the teen had easy access to it. Is there a way to craft legislation that can really try to define where it’s accidental or where it’s not, that kind of squishy area in there (where) it’s always gonna be he said, she said?
Actually, you know, there’s other things that happened then that story in that (Oxford shooting) case. But most shootings by children are with firearms that are owned by those in their own home. And most of the time parents think their kids don’t even know they have a gun. And the kids all know that there is one and they know where it is. So one of the things that this set of bills does is requires the gun sellers to have the purchaser sign a piece of paper that says, “I understand that if a minor gets a hold of my firearm and causes harm to themselves or others, I will be charged with a felony.” The states that are doing this, that have bills like this, some secure storage legislation, have seen significant drops in child shooting accidents, child shooting deaths, actually reductions in suicide. Because particularly in suicide by teenagers, most of the deaths from suicide are by gun.