by David A. Raney
In a recent tweet, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used the horrific mass murder of three Michigan State University students to advance her radical assault on firearm rights in our state. She said: "I'm grateful to my partners in the legislature for turning pain into purpose and introducing commonsense gun safety legislation."
Unfortunately, the harsh gun control bills Democrats are attempting to ram through the Legislature without meaningful debate or deliberation are devoid of common sense. Senate Bill 76 is but one example. As introduced, SB 76 would require current owners of all firearms (including shotguns and hunting rifles) to obtain government permission (in the form of a state license) to retain possession of those firearms — regardless of how long the owner has possessed them.
Under the guise of so-called “universal background checks,” the bill would also criminalize private transfers of firearms between family members (e.g. between a grandparent and a grandchild) without the acquisition of the license.
And the bill would extend state recordkeeping requirements (largely a duplication of existing federal law) to all individual firearm transfers, building upon the state’s failed pistol registration scheme.
Where is the common sense in such an approach?
The enshrinement of firearms registration in SB 76 brings to light two more fundamental problems with the bill — one legal, and the other involving a fundamental question of fairness.
Based upon standing U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Haynes v. United States, 1968, neither the federal government nor state governments may require felons to register their firearms.
The Court reasoned that such a requirement for people who are barred by federal law from possessing firearms would be tantamount to compulsory self-incrimination, which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. Thus, all firearm registration requirements in SB 76 would apply only to law-abiding citizens.
How is registration equitable for the hundreds of thousands of honest Michiganians who, unlike convicted felons, must submit to this violation of their privacy? Why should the state waste the time of its law enforcement officers on an unjust program that is widely recognized as having a negligible public safety benefit? Not to be outdone in the rush to abridge firearm owners’ civil rights, Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives have also introduced a host of gun control proposals that defy common sense — and the U.S. Constitution.
House Bill 4145 would permit the use of “extreme risk protection orders” to confiscate lawfully-owned firearms from those who have committed no crime but who might commit a crime in the future.
Based on a petition from an eligible person (including ex-spouses and former dating partners) claiming that “the defendant poses a significant risk of personal injury to the defendant or others by possessing a firearm,” a judge would be authorized to order the seizure of the defendant’s firearms without a prior hearing and without the commission of any crime. Although the bill allows a defendant to contest an order after it has been executed, the defendant would be considered guilty until proven innocent.
If enacted into law, the House bill would violate no fewer than four amendments in the Bill of Rights: The Second Amendment (the right to keep and bear arms), the Fourth Amendment (prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures), the Fifth Amendment (prohibiting property deprivation without due process of law) and the Sixth Amendment (guaranteeing defendants a public jury trial before conviction of and punishment for a crime).
In addition to these blatant and shocking civil rights violations, common sense dictates that this act would be ripe for abuse by those with a grievance against a gun owner. Supporters of this bill might point to the proposed criminal penalties for filing a false petition in an attempt to allay such concerns, but such assurances would be hollow. The penalty for a first conviction could be as minor as a fine up to but not exceeding $500.
The bills are but a sampling of the many avenues by which Democrats in Lansing are attempting to strip Michiganians of their fundamental rights. We must not allow our elected leaders to do the wrong thing for the sake of doing “something.”
David A. Raney, Ph.D., is the John Anthony Halter Chair in American History, the Constitution, and the Second Amendment at Hillsdale College.