National View: Stop grandstanding, enforce the gun laws we have
From the column: "Do ... Democratic lawmakers believe any new laws they pass will be better respected than the old ones that have been ignored?"
Politicians who quickly rose to call for action on guns following the deadly shootings this week at Michigan State University should spare us the grandstanding and shift their focus to pressuring police and prosecutors to enforce the laws already on the books — enforcement that might have prevented this tragedy.
The 43-year-old gunman who killed three students and injured five others Monday night on MSU’s campus before killing himself was free to do so precisely because he wasn’t prosecuted for previous violations of gun laws.
Yet Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Democrats in Lansing are ready to use the shooting to ram through red-flag laws and other gun-control measures that may be warranted but will have little impact if woke prosecutors choose to not enforce measures lawmakers previously passed.
What bigger red flag could there be than was already waved by the shooter's criminal history and ongoing behavior? He stood in his door and shot at a target in his backyard in a residential Lansing neighborhood, according to a neighbor quoted by the Detroit Daily News. Could there be a bigger precursor of trouble ahead?
He was picked up in June of 2019 for carrying a concealed weapon and instead of being convicted of a felony, which would have banned him from future legal gun ownership, he was allowed to plead down to a misdemeanor. In October 2019, a charge of having a loaded weapon in a vehicle without a permit was added. Again, no jail time.
If we're serious about tackling gun crimes, lawmakers should put in place policies to make plea deals regarding them a rarity.
Instead, Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon agreed to a deal that gave him a mere 12 months of probation, to which six more months were added. His probation period ended May 2021. And he kept his guns.
A similar soft prosecutorial approach is being taken by progressive prosecutors across the country, including in Washtenaw County by Prosecutor Eli Savit. He let the University of Michigan’s star football player Mazi Smith off with a wrist slap for having an unloaded handgun in a vehicle without a permit. That could have been a felony charge involving illegal gun possession.
Like Siemon, who is now retired, Savit has downgraded enforcement of gun possession crimes because of their disparate impact on African Americans, such as the MSU shooter. Siemon has been sharply criticized by local law enforcement for that approach, which has coincided with a spike in gun violence in Ingham County.
This soft-on-gun-crime shift in Ingham played out in Whitmer's backyard. Surely she noticed. Yet tougher enforcement of gun laws was not part of her impassioned response to the MSU shootings.
A student publication, the Spartan Newsroom, ran a piece last Saturday in which the county’s new prosecutor, John Dewane, said he noticed gun violence spreading from Lansing throughout the county, “moving down Michigan Avenue toward East Lansing,” with an increased level of fear among MSU students. It was a prescient observation.
Even Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina described Siemon's progressive approach as trying "to be creative to get around the judge and the Legislature, and quite frankly, the law.”
Do Whitmer and Democratic lawmakers believe any new laws they pass will be better respected than the old ones that have been ignored?
After the shooting, state Rep. Rangeev Puri, D-Canton Township, posted a letter that stated, "F--- your thoughts and prayers." His anger was justified. But we should be praying that elected officials such as Puri, who so zealously talk about gun control, will demand prosecutors enforce the laws they already passed, even when it doesn't align with a preferred agenda.
Gun-control measures mean nothing if we're relying on out-of-control prosecutors to enforce them.
Kaitlyn Buss is the assistant editorial page editor at the Detroit Daily News.