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Michigan Democrats pledge action on gun restrictions after shooting at Michigan State

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The campus of Michigan State University, where a gunman killed three students and wounded five others on Monday, is just about three miles from the state capitol building.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Democrats are in control of both the state legislature and the governorship for the first time in 40 years there in Michigan. And they want to use this power to pass gun control legislation. Here's the state's governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRETCHEN WHITMER: As parents, we tell our kids it's going to be OK. We say that all the time. But the truth is, words are not good enough. We must act, and we will.

INSKEEP: Rick Pluta joins us next. He's from Michigan Public Radio. Welcome.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: OK. So what are the lawmakers and the governor hoping to pass?

PLUTA: Well, Governor Whitmer has called on the legislature to pass laws that Democrats have been trying to get through Republican legislatures for years. And Republicans are pushing back, saying, well, let's find some consensus on things like mental health services. Democrats are saying, though, at a minimum, they want universal background checks, which means a check on criminal histories before someone's allowed to buy a firearm, especially a high-capacity semiautomatic weapon; a red flag law, which is a court order if there's a determination that a gun owner poses a threat; and safe storage laws, that when guns are not being used, that they need to be locked up or at least have a trigger lock.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the political context here, because Michigan represents such a broad swath of America politically and otherwise. I mean, it's a place that's elected a lot of Republicans, even though Democrats are in charge for the moment. So what is public sentiment around gun regulation there?

PLUTA: Sure. Well, I mean, Michigan does have a thriving gun culture. Hunting is a big deal here. Also, the right to bear arms is in our state constitution. And unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Michigan constitutional clause actually has a self-defense provision. It's one of the reasons why there is a constitutionally protected right to bear arms here.

But there is also a poll that was taken in December which, remember, was after the election, that found 90% of Michigan voters who were surveyed favor background checks for gun purchases. Seventy-four percent allow courts to take guns from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others. And that's pretty consistent with earlier polls. So Democrats would seem to have the wind to their backs on this. But their majorities in the legislature that you referred to - they're very narrow - one vote in the House, one vote in the Senate.

And that could make the politics problematic as Republicans are pushing back, saying, let's find some consensus - again, mental health services. But Democrats aren't buying it, saying that you had your chance to do these sorts of things and blew it off, that when it comes to reasons to trust you, we are not seeing them.

INSKEEP: Well, how soon could those narrow majorities act, if at all?

PLUTA: Well, I mean, probably not this week just because this is still so raw. So Democrats haven't set a timetable, but they certainly appear to getting all or most of these adopted and sent to Governor Whitmer. Like we said, she's ready to sign them into law.

INSKEEP: Rick, thanks so much for the update. We'll continue following your reporting.

PLUTA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Rick Pluta in Michigan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.