Jim Pedersen, a gun owner and hunter, advocates for gun reform at an End Gun Violence Michigan press conference on March 2, 2023. | Photo by Anna Gustafson
Michigan firearm owners and strong proponents of Second Amendment rights at a Thursday press conference threw their weight behind the gun reform bills introduced by state Democrats and urged lawmakers to cast what they said should be “an easy vote” in favor of the legislation.
“I can’t think of any other issue in this state where the citizens of Michigan are more united,” Jon Gold, president of the Michigan chapter of Giffords Gun Owners for Safety and a National Rifle Association-trained firearms instructor, said of the gun reform legislation moving its way through the state House and Senate. “This shouldn’t be a hard vote for anybody. This is an easy vote.”
Gold was joined by other gun owners from throughout Michigan who are advocating for stronger firearm regulations — and specifically for the package of gun reform legislation before the House and Senate that would mandate universal background checks for all guns, require that gun owners safely store firearms that could be accessed by minors, and permit a court to order the temporary removal of firearms from someone who may be a danger to themselves or others.
End Gun Violence Michigan — a coalition of faith leaders, educators, firearm safety groups, and others working on gun reform across the state — hosted Thursday’s press conference at the Binsfeld Office Building, the home of the Michigan Senate.
“The first three words of the Second Amendment: ‘a well regulated,’” said Jim Pedersen, a hunter and substitute school teacher from Cassopolis. “That’s something you don’t see on the bumper stickers. You see the parts that certain people like, like ‘shall not be infringed.’”
Like Gold, Pedersen said lawmakers from across the ideological spectrum should back the gun reform bills.
“These gun safety bills are reasonable proposals and should be supported by all reasonable hunters and gun owners,” Pedersen said.
The gun owners who spoke at the press conference had varying reasons for backing stronger regulations, from being the grandfather of a Michigan State University student who survived the mass shooting to having a lifelong belief that those who own firearms should be in favor of strict gun laws.
Michael Jackson, a gun owner, hunter and retired carpenter, described the nightmare that unfolded on Feb. 13, when a mass shooting at MSU killed three students and wounded five others. Jackson’s granddaughter, Maleigha Jackson, is a 26-year-old graduate student at MSU.
“When Maleigha sent a group text to my family that there was an active shooter, I could feel my heart jump into my throat,” Michael Jackson said. “There’s no worse feeling than that.
“I’m here to demand we never let this happen again,” Jackson continued.
Jackson then posed a question that the other gun owners echoed throughout the conference: “How have we sat back and let this [mass shootings] happen again and again?”
The gun owners also voiced criticism of the NRA and said gun culture has significantly changed in the decades that they have owned guns.
“We’re getting pushback from people who support profit over safety, from people who have been affected adversely by propaganda,” Gold said of gun reform critics. “I’m a lifetime registered member of the National Rifle Association, and I will tell you they are responsible for much of that propaganda.”
Gold noted that he has tried to resign from the NRA six times but the organization has yet to let him go.
“Hopefully after they see the press from today they will accept my resignation,” Gold said.
Pedersen also described a “change in the national firearm culture.”
“I didn’t get pushback on locking up guns 40 years ago,” Pedersen said.
Michael Jackson’s granddaughter, Maleigha Jackson, spoke during the press conference and praised the gun owners like her grandfather who are backing reform. She called on others to do the same.
“No place is safe — schools, grocery stores, malls, Fourth of July parades; shootings happen everywhere,” Maleigha Jackson said.
Like her grandfather, the night of Feb. 13 is forever etched into her memory. She recalled receiving the message from the university to “run, hide, fight.”
“These words were meant as instructions for survival,” she said. “But, now, to me, they’re just an admission of failure. We’ve given up on the idea that we can be safe in society. We’ve given up on the idea that we can stop gun violence. This is our normal. So all we can do is tell students of all ages, ‘You’re on your own. Your survival is your responsibility.’”
That, everyone who spoke at the press conference said, must change.
“I’m so glad we have the leaders in this Legislature,” Gold said. “We have champions of gun safety, and we finally have the opportunity to hold this hearing and have this vote.”
Prior to this year, Democratic lawmakers had repeatedly introduced gun reform bills that languished in committee and never had hearings under Republican leadership. Now, for the first time in nearly four decades, Democrats are in control of the House, Senate and governorship — and they have vowed that gun reform is imminent.
“I was 14 the last time the majority would have voted on this issue,” Gold said. “I’m 54. It has been 40 years since we’ve had a chance to make a change. It’s time for us to have this debate.”
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