Michigan’s new firearm injury prevention laws: What everyone should know

Top U-M experts share insights into new safe storage requirement, “red flag” law and other efforts to reduce injury and death

3:00 PM

Author | Kara Gavin

Credit: Michigan Medicine

Michigan has a set of new laws related to firearms, all designed to reduce the risk of injury and death across the state. 

The laws mostly took effect in February 2024, after being passed and signed in 2023. Most of them apply to Michiganders who own firearms or are seeking to purchase, sell or receive a gift of firearms. 

One new law allows any Michigander to raise serious concerns or “red flags” about the safety of firearm access by others, under specific conditions.

But even for people who don’t fall into these groups, it’s important to know about the laws. That’s why three University of Michigan firearm researchers took time to discuss the laws in a public livestream hosted by Michigan Medicine. 

Those experts – all affiliated with the U-M Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention – shared key insights into what the laws are all about, and why they’re seen as important tools for averting tragedies from intentional and accidental firearm incidents. 

Safe storage laws

Two of the new laws seek to ensure that firearms aren’t available to children and teens for unauthorized use. One law requires firearms to be stored in a locked fashion in any place where a child or teen may be present, and the other provides for legal penalties for any owner of a firearm whose weapon is used by a minor to threaten, hurt or kill someone. 

Patrick Carter, M.D., an emergency medicine physician and researcher at Michigan Medicine, is co-director of the U-M Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention. 

“What these laws mean is that folks who own firearms, and use them in responsible ways, need to make sure they keep their firearms are locked up and secured, especially when children are in the household or around,” he said.

 “We know from years of research that firearms that are left unsecured increase the risk for events to happen: a child to find the firearm and injure themselves, a teen who may be depressed to act with a firearm in a moment of crisis. And we know from school shootings that largely those firearms are accessed from homes that have firearms that are not secured.” 

Keeping firearms unloaded and locked, either with a gun lock through the empty chamber or in a gun safe or other locked storage, is an important step. 

Justin Heinze, Ph.D., of the U-M School of Public Health, and director of the institute's School Safety Section, notes that schools can provide information to families, and notes that the U.S. Department of Education recently published guidelines for schools to communicate to families about safe firearm storage. 

One of the new laws, which takes effect in May, will give firearm owners a “tax holiday” until December for safe storage devices and equipment. This temporary rollback of the state sales tax on gun locks, safes, lockboxes and other items reduces the total cost. Gun locks are always available for free from local law enforcement, and may be available from community organizations, health care settings and more.

“Red flag” law

Michigan now has a law similar to one already in effect in many U.S. states, said April Zeoli, Ph.D., also of the School of Public Health and director of the institute's Policy Core. 

Called extreme risk protection order, or ERPO, laws, they’re commonly referred to as “red flag” laws because they allow individuals to raise a red flag about someone who they believe could harm themselves or others with a firearm that they have access to.

“Michigan’s ERPO law is a civil court process for temporarily suspending someone’s right to purchase and possess guns, and that is invoked only if the person is found in a civil court at risk of harming themselves or others in the near future,” she explained. “It has to be a substantial risk and there has to be substantial evidence.”

SEE ALSO: Gun deaths among children and teens have soared

Petitions for an ERPO may be filed by law enforcement officers regarding someone in their jurisdiction, health care providers regarding a patient they have cared for, or the immediate family members, intimate partners or household members of the person against who the petition is made.

For health care providers, Carter said, “I view this as another tool in the toolbox that we can reach for when we have a patient that we’re concerned about. We know that suicide is far too common among our older adult population.” And, he notes, “Acting on behalf of our patients is part of our professional role as physicians and medical providers.”

Heinze, who leads the National Center for School Safety, adds that law enforcement personnel who serve as school resource officers can be a conduit for someone to raise concerns about firearm access by someone who may be at risk of committing a school shooting.

The U-M firearm institute offers an ERPO Toolkit with many resources for those who want to learn more or file an ERPO petition.

Domestic violence 

Another one of Michigan’s new firearm laws expands the provisions for removing firearms from people convicted of charges related to threatening or committing intimate partner violence and domestic violence. 

Said Zeoli, “We know that when intimate partner violence involves a gun it is deadlier,” and even when it’s not fatal the consequences are worse than incidents that don’t involve a firearm. She also notes that most mass shootings have a link to domestic or intimate relationships. 

“Keeping guns away from abusive intimate partners is incredibly important for the safety of their partners, children, family and the community at large,” she said. The new Michigan law covers people convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence and suspends their firearm related rights for eight years after they have completed any fines, probation or jail time given as part of their sentencing.

Carter adds that medical professionals routinely ask patients if they are experiencing domestic violence, through screening questionnaires and other means. “Having knowledge of these laws as clinicians is important in order to provide counseling to patients when they’re at risk,” he said.

Background checks, permits 

The last of the new laws extends to long guns some of the same procedures that have been in place for handguns in the state of Michigan.

Now, anyone seeking to purchase a long gun or handgun from a licensed firearm dealer or a private individual, or receive one as a gift, will need to seek a permit from law enforcement, who will run a background check on them to ensure they are allowed to possess firearms. 

“This type of law is associated with reductions in suicide and homicide, including homicides of police officers,” said Zeoli. “Suicides are pretty quick decisions that people make. If you have to go get the license, which takes a little bit of time, by the time you get the license and get the firearm, that impulse to attempt suicide may have passed.”

OK2Say anonymous reporting

Although it’s not part of a new law, Heinze notes that the state’s OK2Say program gives Michiganders a confidential way to speak up and raise concerns about any matter related to a school. That could mean anyone who notices a sign that someone could be a danger to themselves or others, or to a school, whether or not it involves a firearm.

The important thing is to “get the concern out so it can be directed to the appropriate authority,” he said, noting that his research and that of others has shown remarkable success in addressing concerns raised through anonymous reporting. 

“When you think about school violence, more than three quarters of the time, someone has said or shown or done something to signal that they might be a danger to themselves or others,” he said. 

Studying the laws’ impact

The U-M institute’s members will be evaluating what happens in Michigan now that the new laws are in effect, to see what’s working and what’s not. At the same time, research on other aspects of firearm injury and death in Michigan, and in other states, by the institute’s members will continue. 

The institute also offers online resources and training for anyone who wants to learn how to be a trusted messenger to firearm owners, families, and others. 

“We do best when we focus on a common goal,” said Carter. “The common goal of having less people die from firearms -- especially children, who are disproportionately injured --- is a common goal.”

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More Articles About: Wellness and Prevention Health Care Delivery, Policy and Economics Firearms Emergency Medicine Emergency & Trauma Care
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