A bill pushed by the National Rifle Association to eliminate criminal background checks for many handgun buyers in Michigan was rejected by state lawmakers Wednesday, after a heavy lobbying effort by law enforcement officials, municipal leaders and gun control advocates.
The bill would have repealed a state law mandating all handgun buyers pass a background check program run by the Michigan State Police, designed to block felons, domestic abusers and the severely mentally ill from obtaining a handgun license. Federal law bars felons from obtaining firearms, but does not mandate private sellers conduct criminal background checks on gun buyers.
The bill sailed through the Michigan House of Representatives in June, but died in the Senate after lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of an alternate measure that eased handgun licensing in the state but retained the criminal background checks. Republicans in Michigan control both state houses and the governorship.
State law enforcement officials, municipal leaders and activists against domestic violence came out strongly against the measure eliminating background checks, warning it would allow illegal guns to fall into the wrong hands.
"The last thing we need is a bill to completely eliminate handgun purchase permits," said Ypsilanti Mayor Paul T. Schreiber. Ypsilanti is about 35 miles west of Detroit.
The NRA plans to push the proposal again next year, according to a posting on the group's legislative affairs website. The group called the Michigan background check system "obsolete and wasteful."
"The NRA remains firmly committed pursuing these goals early in the next legislative session," the gun-rights group said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the leader of a coalition of U.S. mayors that fought the proposal, cheered its defeat, saying in a statement that Michigan lawmakers resisted "enormous pressure" from pro-gun lobbyists. Bloomberg has long been a prominent advocate for stricter gun control laws.
"It's amazing that the Washington gun lobby thought they could give marching orders to Lansing," Bloomberg said. "They almost succeeded."
Police officials and prosecutors also hailed the measure's defeat.
In a statement, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy, whose office handles crime in Detroit, one of the country's most violent cities, said she was relieved by the vote against the bill, calling handgun checks an important law enforcement tool.
"I am pleased and relieved that our state lawmakers trusted their better judgment and voted to keep this critical resource," Worthy said.
The alternate bill passed by the Michigan Senate eases the existing regulations on handgun licensing in several ways, most notably by repealing a mandatory handgun safety test required to obtain a permit.