In 1990, Gov. Jim Blanchard signed Public Act 319 of 1990 in to law. The law prohibits “local units of government” from passing laws that restrict “the ownership, registration, purchase, sale, transfer, transportation, or possession of pistols, other firearms, or pneumatic guns, ammunition for pistols or other firearms, or components of pistols or other firearms.” It’s a pretty unambiguous law and has caused some municipalities to repeal local gun ordinances.
However, this was not enough for gun fetishists who want the ability to carry guns wherever and whenever they please, despite the wishes of the citizens in their community. In Ann Arbor, for example, the public school system passed policies that prohibit the carrying of guns on school property whether it’s allowed by state law or not. They were sued in court and, last September, Judge Carol Kuhnke ruled against the plaintiffs and sided with the school district. In her decision Kuhnke pointed out that schools are not considered “local units of government” and had the right, even the obligation under state law, to protect the students, teachers, administrators, parents in their schools.
Kuhnke’s decision seems well-founded. PA 319 specifically defines a “local unit of government” as “a city, village, township, or county.” Nonetheless, her ruling is now under appeal and is expected to be litigated for months, maybe years to come.
In response to this and sincere desire to ensure that local governments don’t do anything that patriarchal Republicans in the state legislature haven’t give them permission to do, Republican Lee Chatfield introduced House Bill 4795 in August of last year. In its current form, the bill imposes a number of highly punitive measures on local units of government who attempt to disobey PA 319, something that is, of course, already illegal. According to the House Fiscal Agency’s analysis, HB 4795 does the following with regards to local ordinances:
If the court finds that the measure violates this act, it would issue an injunction restraining the local unit of government from enforcing the measure, order it to repeal the measure, and award actual damages, costs, and reasonable attorney fees to the individual or organization challenging the measure.
Further, if the court finds that an elected or appointed official, or the council, commission, or board of the local unit of government, knowingly and willfully violated the act, the elective or highest appointive executive official must notify by mail all registered electors in the local unit of government. The notice may not include the name of the individual or organization that brought the action, and must include both of the following:
- The circuit court’s finding that the local unit of government knowingly and willfully violated this act; and
- The aggregate cost incurred by defending the action brought under this act, including, but not limited to, the amount of actual damages, costs, and reasonable attorney fees that were awarded to the party bringing the action.
It’s worth noting that local units of government would be forced to pay plaintiffs’ legal fees even if they amend or repeal their local law.
Believe it or not, this bill to make an already illegal act MORE illegal is actually a softened version of the original bill. The original bill would have imposed a fine of up to $5,000 against local officials and they would not have been permitted to use public funds to defend or reimburse themselves.
The bill has been voted out favorably from the House Judiciary Committee and, on May 4th, the Committee on Local Government sent it to the full House.
Normally I don’t get too outraged by these “making something already illegal MORE illegal” pieces of legislation. However, this one will have a chilling effect. East Lansing City Attorney Tom Yeadon, for example, told the City Council that they would have to repeal any local ordinances just to be safe:
Yeadon explained at last night’s meeting, as well as in a memo submitted in conjunction with the meeting, that if the bill passes, the City will have no real option other than to repeal any existing ordinances that might set off the penalties described in the bill, and to not attempt to pass any new ones. The way the bill is designed was described as consisting of “super-preemption,” meaning it attempts to stop local governments from even considering doing anything against the will of those in power at the State level, in this case, pro-gun-rights Republicans.
Linda Brundage, Executive Director of the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, spoke “in total opposition” to the bill during Public Comments last night. Brundage warned Council that if this bill passes, “any kind of regulation involving firearms, even the most mundane, would become too risky.”
The Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence spells it out further:
The outcomes of HB 4795 would be stark:
- Local governments could spend thousands, even millions of dollars defending themselves against an onslaught of lawsuits brought to take advantage of the monetary awards provided by HB 4795.
- Local governments who decide to repeal or amend challenged ordinances would still be forced to pay the attorney fees and legal costs for the plaintiff in lawsuits. […]
- Enacting or enforcing any type of local regulation involving firearms, even the most mundane such as where a firearm may be discharged, would become too risky. Local governments and officials would be forced to stay away from any such regulations altogether and put residents in danger.
In other words: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED for the NRA, the gun industry, and their gun fetishist supporters. And that’s the real fear here, that the NRA and other gun industry lobbyists will exert their significant financial and political power to challenge each and every local ordinance in Michigan pertaining to firearms because, if they are successful, the financial payoff will be huge for them. They aren’t afraid to say it either. The NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, a group that spent over $11 million buying votes in the 2014 election cycle, is very clear in their intent and isn’t above using insulting, patriarchal language in doing so:
While Public Act 319 of 1990 was largely successful in accomplishing the intended goal, certain obstinate local units of government and local politicians in Michigan continue to egregiously violate Michigan law through the enactment of unlawful regulations and ordinances intended to target, intimidate, and sometimes unlawfully detain law-abiding gun owners. This conduct, which only impacts responsible gun owners while doing nothing to address violent crime, cannot continue.
If the government can seek recourse when its citizens break the law (i.e. tickets, fines and imprisonment), then it is only right that the citizens be allowed to seek recourse when a local unit of government breaks the law. House Bill 4795 is simply intended to deter insubordinate local units of government and local politicians from knowingly breaking the law.
Please make your voice known on this legislation by contacting your legislatures as soon as possible. It’s time the gun lobby’s inordinate power to set policy and enact laws was stopped and that power returned to the citizens of our state.