A memorial at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, following the mass shooting on February 14, 2018, in Parkland. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The day before 17 people died in a shooting at a Florida high school, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) was visiting Southwest Michigan’s Portage Central High School while it held a live shooter drill.
“That never happened when I was a student,” Upton said during a recent phone interview with the Michigan Advance. “It was pretty scary to a parent like me.”
The next day — Feb. 14, 2018 — a 19-year-old used an AR-15 rifle to shoot and kill 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The following week, Upton returned to Portage Central with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) to meet with students, the sheriff, community leaders, and school board members to discuss school safety.
Those conversations, and the deep fear Upton heard from students and others, immediately resurfaced after Upton learned of the fatal shooting at Oxford High School on Nov. 30.
Oakland County prosecutors say 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley used a semi-automatic shotgun to shoot and kill four students and wound seven other people. The students killed were: Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17.
“It’s a frightening nightmare,” Upton said in the interview this week. “No parent wants to think their son or daughter is off to school and is not going to come back home. No child wants to be confronted by a gun held by an individual who needs help.”
To better prevent mass shootings, Upton noted he was one of eight Republicans in both 2018 and this year to vote for the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. The congressman, who represents much of Southwest Michigan, was also one of five Republicans to co-sponsor the legislation that would close loopholes in the background check system and require FBI background checks for nearly all gun sales.
“We passed that in the House again, but the Senate hasn’t acted on it,” said Upton.
“People without a criminal record have nothing to fear,” the congressman continued, referring to the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. “If you have that criminal record, whether it’s assaults or domestic abuse, you lose your right to purchase a firearm.”
The act’s supporters, including all of Michigan’s Democratic U.S. House members and Upton, are pushing the Senate to vote on the background legislation.
“Long before the events in Oxford, the U.S. House passed a bill requiring basic background checks for all purchases of any and all guns, just like we do at Walmart now,” Democratic Michigan U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, whose district includes Oxford, said on the U.S. House floor last week.
“This bill had both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. It was one of those rare instances of this body rising to the occasion with some basic common sense. … That bill is currently sitting in the U.S. Senate. It could be voted on tomorrow if there was a will to act. So, please, to our colleagues in the Senate: Take up this important bipartisan legislation.”
As has been the case for other legislation, including the recently passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, Upton was the only Michigan Republican to support the Bipartisan Background Checks Act.
While there is bipartisan agreement on some gun policies, such as background checks, preventing individuals with mental illnesses from purchasing guns, and not allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit, Republicans have been far more resistant to gun control than Democrats.
Republicans are more likely to be gun owners (Upton noted he is not a gun owner) and generally do not see gun violence as a major problem — 18 percent of Republicans see it as a major problem, compared to 73 percent of Democrats — according to the Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan think tank.
And while Upton said during this week’s interview that he wants to “underscore, I support the Second Amendment,” he is, unlike the majority of his Republican colleagues, supportive of some gun control legislation.
In addition to the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, Upton backs what’s known as “red flag” legislation, which allows law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from someone who may be a danger to themselves or others.
In 2019, Upton introduced the Jake Laird Act of 2019 with Dingell and Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.). The bill was never voted on; it would have provided grants to encourage states to adopt red flag laws.
In light of Oxford, Upton said, there needs to be strong anonymous reporting systems to allow students, parents, and school officials, among others, to report potential threats of school violence.
“A background check in this case probably would not have prevented this because the dad did not have a criminal background and was clear to purchase the semi-automatic pistol with a number of rounds,” Upton said.
“But in this particular case it appears as though folks were aware this was a troubled youngster who posted real threats on social media, and somehow those were never passed on to law enforcement, which was a huge mistake.”
According to police, Ethan Crumbley’s father, James Crumbley, purchased on Black Friday the hand gun allegedly used by his son to shoot his fellow students that following Tuesday. James and wife Jennifer Crumbley have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said last week that on the day of the shooting a teacher witnessed a drawing by Ethan Crumbley that included the words, “The thoughts won’t stop, help me,” a drawing of a bullet, and the phrase, “blood everywhere.” McDonald said the 15-year-old’s parents were summoned to the school in response to the drawing but refused to take him home with them.
“Thank goodness the Van Buren Sheriff’s Department was able to get the information in advance of what would’ve been another Oxford for sure in Paw Paw,” Upton said.
In the Paw Paw case, a 15-year-old was arrested after police found him with guns and bomb-making materials in his backpack; police said he had planned to attack his school. That same individual, Aidan Ingalls, shot and killed 73-year-old Charles Skuza before killing himself on a South Haven pier earlier this year, police said.
Michigan state Rep. Steve Carra, who announced in March that he plans to primary Upton and has since landed an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, had said he’s drafting legislation that would permit schools to keep lockboxes for school staff to secure their personal firearms in case of an attack.
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a national organization advocating for gun reform, said during a press conference recently that schools should not be home to guns.
“The last thing we should do is add more guns into our schools,” Watts said. “It’s a terrible idea that puts our children into even more danger.”
Upton’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Carra’s proposal, but he did say following the Parkland shooting that he opposes arming teachers.
“I do not join those who think schools would be safer by arming teachers for a whole host of reasons,” Upton said in 2018.
This story was originally published by the Michigan Advance, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom, which includes the Florida Phoenix.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.