After the 2012 general election, I returned to Lansing for the final weeks of my second term in the State House of Representatives.
As a minority member of the Judiciary Committee, I had been following the progress of Senate Bill 59. SB 59 would eliminate the few remaining gun-free zones — places excluded from the broad rights bestowed by a concealed carry permit. Schools, day care centers, sports arenas, bars, houses of worship, dorms, hospitals.
The lobbyist for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action diligently made the rounds of the legislature. Since he was relatively new on the job, he told me, he figured he would stop by my office to discuss the merits of this bill. I patiently listened as he recited his talking points. I told him that I believed there should be more regulation on gun owners and sellers, not less.
He smiled as he explained that he was part of an army of twenty-somethings fanning out around state houses across the country to “educate” lawmakers such as myself about the NRA’s legislative priorities and their system of “scoring” legislators on their votes. SB 59, he reminded me, would be a scorecard vote.
He checked my name off his list, politely excused himself and proceeded down the hall.
SB 59 sailed out of committee on a party-line vote, then sat on the committee calendar, waiting for a floor vote. That year’s lame duck session — prime time for bills that could face popular pushback if presented before an election — featured bills restricting abortion access, adding a citizen check box to ballots, replacing the emergency manager law that voters had rejected and codifying “right to work,” among other things.
Legislators looked increasingly weary into December, but the young man from the NRA appeared rested and ready to deliver SB 59 into law.
On December 13, the House was called to order by the Speaker at 10:00 am. In his invocation, Rep. Frank Foster said, “Give us wisdom today, Lord, to make the best possible decisions that are in the public interest. Help us to build a better world in which there is hope for the future, peace, liberty, justice and freedom for all.”
In the 38th roll call vote of the day, SB 59 — “An act to regulate and license the selling, purchasing, possessing, and carrying of certain firearms…” — passed, 68-41.
When it became clear that the session was going to continue uninterrupted into the evening, the lobbyist offered to buy dinner for the entire legislature: Pizza courtesy of the National Rifle Association.
At 11:50 pm, the House adjourned, resuming eleven minutes later and continuing until after the 130th roll call vote at 5:00am.
On Friday at 9:30 — everyone still in Lansing, though technically on recess until December 27 — Adam Lanza arrived at Sandy Hook Elementary School with an AR-15, two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun and high-capacity magazines with several hundred rounds of ammunition. At 3:30, President Obama delivered a statement from the White House.
Because of the optics from Newtown, Republican leadership exercised restraint regarding SB 59; they waited until Tuesday to present it to Governor Snyder to sign into law.
In response, Governor Sndyer began, “Senate Bill 59 makes a number of wise and necessary reforms to Michigan's weapons laws.”
He elaborated that “while we must vigilantly protect the rights of law-abiding firearm owners, we also must ensure the right of designated public entities to exercise their best discretion in matters of safety and security.”
Governor Snyder dealt with Senate Bill 59 by declining to sign it into law on or before December 27, a pocket veto. Instead, he called for a review of Michigan's services and needs that included:
“Asking local school districts to offer practical ways to help prevent the introduction of weapons on school property, in order to maintain the sanctity of a safe educational environment for students and educators.”
I got an F from the NRA. Synder got a B.