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Referendum on Extreme Risk Protection Order Act OK’d for signatures

Gov. Whitmer signs firearm safety bills
Rick Pluta
File Photo: Gov. Whitmer signs firearm safety bills. May 22, 2023

A referendum campaign is targeting a Michigan law allowing courts to temporarily keep guns from those deemed a threat to themselves or others

A referendum campaign is targeting a Michigan law allowing courts to temporarily keep guns from those deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Getting the referendum on Michigan’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Act on the ballot would allow voters to nullify the law, which is scheduled to go into effect on February 13.

Paul Urben is the founder of the group behind the campaign, Referendums of Michigan. He says there’s too much room for abuse of the law.

“I just think it’s going to open the door to a lot of frivolous lawsuits, and I think it’s just going to create more chaos in an already hammered court system. Enough’s enough,” Urben told reporters.

On Monday, the campaign received approval from the Michigan Board of State Canvassers to start gathering signatures to get the question on the ballot.

Urben said he plans on using a volunteer team and collaborations with other groups and gun clubs to get it there. Signature collection could start as soon as this week.

“I’m a part of a few grassroots organizations across the state that have kind of been, you know, waiting. So, now that we have our approval, off we go. So, we'll get them printed, get them out, and get moving,” Urben said.

This election cycle, it takes 223,099 signatures to get a referendum before voters. According to Michigan Secretary of State resources, they’d be due by the “90th day following the final adjournment of the legislative session at which the law was enacted, by 5:00pm.”

In this case, that’s February 13.

That could prove a challenge for Urben and his team, which plan to avoid using paid signature gatherers in favor of the volunteer effort.

Progress Michigan is an advocacy group that has helped support and oppose various ballot efforts in the past.

Executive Director Sam Inglot said he wasn’t aware of any specific plans to oppose this effort. But he pointed to polls supporting the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act as proof public support could be against rejecting it.

"The fact of the matter is common sense, life saving gun violence prevention measures like extreme risk protection orders are supported by the vast majority of Michiganders and any effort to try to repeal them before they've even taken effect would be a massive uphill battle. Michiganders support efforts to save lives and prevent gun violence in our communities and any effort to roll those policies back can expect a cold response from folks across the state," Inglot said in an email.

Michigan passed the law earlier this year as part of the legislative response to February’s mass shooting at Michigan State University.

Democratic state Representative Kelly Breen (D-Novi) chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which worked on the legislation. She said similar “red flag” policies have seen results in states like Indiana.

Breen said law enforcement has been searching for similar tools to remove firearms from a potentially dangerous situation.

“Right now in Michigan, if there is an escalating situation and let’s say a complaint is made, the officers show up but yet no crime has been committed, officers have to leave that scene without taking a firearm,” Breen said.

Beyond that, she maintained anyone potentially facing the temporary suspension of their gun rights has access to due process.

“They will have a hearing no later than two weeks after that firearm is confiscated,” Breen said.

Outside of this specific issue, more referendum efforts on future legislation could be coming.

Urben said he formed his group in September out of a desire to teach people about the referendum process when he began hearing about lawmakers not responding to constituents’ concerns.

“I said, ‘Well, when we get to that point, no matter what political party you’re a part of, or if you’re an independent in this state, we have to find means of remedy,’” Urben said.

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