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This week, Michigan’s Senate passed a major gun safety package and sent it to the House, where it is expected to pass. The action was spurred by last month's shooting at Michigan State University that killed three students and wounded five others. Lisa Geller, director of state policy at Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, joins John Yang to discuss.
While Congress is unable to agree on major new federal gun safety legislation, some states are making progress on their own laws. This week, the Democrat controlled Michigan Senate passed a major gun safety package, sending it to the House, which is also controlled by Democrats and which is expected to pass it as well.
The action was spurred by last month's shooting, which killed three students and wounded five others at Michigan State University, less than four miles from the Michigan capital. Lisa Geller is the Director of State Policy at Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
Lisa, a lot of these things in this Michigan package are things that gun safety advocates want Congress to do, expanding the types of transactions where a background check is required, red flag laws, requirements to store guns safely. This state law going to be as effective as a national law?
Lisa Geller, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions: So first, thank you for having me. And what we know about how gun policy and gun violence prevention happens is it's typically at the state level. So, while we did see last summer President Biden signed the historic bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law, most of the action we've seen on gun violence has been at the state level. So, while it would great to pass federal, you know, universal background checks, it would be great to have a universal safe storage law that applied to all 50 states. And of course, the same with an extremist protection order. It is unfortunately, the reality of getting gun policy passed is that we do it at the state level.
The Michigan State shooter was able to buy his weapons legally, even though he had a history of mental problems with the laws that — are under consideration prevented that?
Extreme risk protection orders are designed to be a preventative measure. So, if an individual is at risk of harm to self or others, an individual in that state, in Michigan's law, it could be family, household members, law enforcement and other groups could petition a court to make sure that they temporarily don't have access to firearms. So while I won't say that any one policy here would have absolutely prevented what we saw at Michigan State and at Oxford High School the year before, we do know that these laws are being used every day to temporarily restrict access to firearms from someone at risk of gun violence.
And while the law being considered in the legislature now would expand, the background checks include gun shows close what's called the gun show loophole. You've got to your South State, Indiana, which has much less restrictive gun laws as the people in Chicago and Illinois know. So how do you solve that problem, the sort of checkerboard nature of state laws and the fact that state borders are porous?
Well, you're absolutely right. And what I say all the time is your state's gun laws are only as good as your neighboring state's gun laws. So, certainly someone, if they were very determined, could perhaps travel to a neighboring state and still possess a gun. And so it's important to put in the protections in state law to prevent that purchase and possession of firearms.
Are there other states that are moving forward in this way?
This legislative session, there is a lot happening on gun violence prevention. Michigan's neighbor in Minnesota is also considering an extreme risk protection order, also known as a red flag law, 19 states and the District of Columbia already have these laws in place. And what we saw last summer was that Congress allocated funding for the first time to implement these gun laws.
So, I'm hopeful that not only the 19 states and District of Columbia with ERPO laws, extreme risk protection orders will now have funding to implement them, but other states will follow suit now that there is a funding stream to make sure that they're used equitably and efficiently.
I know in your role you've been talking to the lawmakers in Michigan. What have they said about the Michigan state shooting, how it affected them, and whether this is the main impetus for what's going on now?
Because Democrats now control the trifecta in Michigan, that is really what's ultimately making these bills able to go through and be signed by Governor Whitmer into law, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Democrats also tried to introduce this legislation after the Oxford High School shooting in Michigan and have actually introduced gun violence prevention policies for several years.
But the Michigan State University shooting, combined with the fact that Democrats have control of the Michigan legislature means that we can actually do something now to keep people safe from gun violence in the State of Michigan.
You've mentioned a couple of times the Safer Communities Act, which was passed by Congress last year, signed into law by President Biden. Is that having an effect?
Well, we already know that funding has been allocated to states to implement their crisis intervention orders. Those orders include the Red Flag Law, the Extremist Protection Order. I am proud to announce that we also — the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, got a grant from the Department of Justice to enact a national Extremist Protection Order Training and Technical Assistance Center.
So, as the co-director of that new center, I will be able to work directly with states that have extremist protection orders to make sure that they are utilizing the funds and implementing them in the ways that they need to be able to reduce gun violence.
So, it is a historic accomplishment that the Biden administration has been able to do to prioritize gun violence prevention. And we saw it just this week with some more executive orders that really solidified the bipartisan Safer Communities Act. And I am hopeful and excited about the next couple of years with federal funding to enact these policies.
Lisa Geller of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, thank you very much.
Thank you for having me.
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John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
Kaisha Young is a general assignment producer at PBS News Weekend.
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