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Michigan gun reform: Democrats may pursue universal background checks. What research says

Michigan Democrats say they may want to pursue universal background checks, safe storage laws and red flag laws when they take control of all branches of state government in January. (Shutterstock)

LANSING — Michigan Democrats may push for universal background checks for guns when they take control of the state Legislature in January. 

Democrats, who will lead all branches of government for the first time in decades, have said gun reform is a priority, especially in the wake of last year’s shooting at Oxford High School and a rise of mass shootings nationwide: Of the 172 from 1966 and 2019, more than half have been since 2000 ,and 20 percent were from 2010 and 2019, according to The Violence Project, funded by the U.S. Justice Department.


State Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, has told Bridge Michigan that Democrats will likely prioritize three areas of gun reform: universal background checks, safe storage laws with a focus on keeping guns out of the hands of children and “red flag” laws, which would allow someone’s gun to be taken away temporarily if they are deemed dangerous to themselves or others.


Democrats contend tragedies like Oxford could be prevented if laws were in place to require safe storage to prevent child access to guns. Republicans have blocked the effort, arguing such measures could infringe on gun rights and instead proposing legislation to eliminate penalties for carrying pistols without a concealed weapons permit or registration

Other states are also adopting gun reforms:  In recent months, California prohibited gun sellers from marketing products to minors and restricted “ghost guns” — privately assembled guns that are not traceable — while Delaware strengthened background checks and regulated high-capacity magazines and Vermont banned guns from hospitals and the transfer of firearms between unlicensed people.

What happens after states pass these laws? 

Bridge Michigan reviewed more than 20 studies about the impact of gun reform. but some scholars contend more time and data are needed to make conclusions. That’s because “research has been limited by lack of funding and data,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted in a 2017 report. From 1996 to 2019, federal law — pushed by the National Rifle Association — essentially banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding gun violence research.

Here’s what studies say about universal background check laws.

What are they?

Federal law requires background checks for anyone who buys a gun through a federally licensed gun dealer and bars people with a criminal record or otherwise ineligible to own a gun from buying firearms.

Since the requirements were established in 1998, more than 300 million checks have been conducted and more than 1.5 million have been denied, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

But only 40 percent of guns sold in America are sold through a federally licensed dealer. 

A total of 13 states and D.C. have universal background check laws, which generally require that all firearm sales go through licensed gun dealers who can perform background checks on their buyers before sale.

What could Michigan’s law look like?

Michigan Democrats have sponsored universal background checks last year, Senate Bills 454-456 and House Bills 4869-4871, that would apply a licensing process only required for pistols to all kinds of firearms. They would also expand the penalties for lying on a pistol license application to lying on applications for any firearm. 

Do the laws work?

Research has shown universal background checks can reduce gun violence, but there is no consensus on how well they work. 


A 2019 study of all 50 states over a 26-year period linked universal background checks to a 14.9 percent reduction in overall homicide rates

A 2015 study on Connecticut’s law requiring gun buyers to obtain a permit, which comes with background check requirements, was linked to a 40 percent reduction in the state’s gun-related homicides during the first 10 years since it was implemented in 1995.

Another 2015 analysis of past studies indicates expanding some background checks — the kinds that would disqualify people from illegally accessing firearms — could “have protective effects against lethal violence.” And criminals who attempt to buy a gun from licensed dealers yet are denied are less likely to engage in violent crimes, the study concluded.

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