Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords speaks at a rally in support of gun safety legislation on March 15, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)
Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a gun violence survivor, joined state leaders Wednesday for a rally at the Michigan Capitol as the Michigan Legislature continues to debate gun safety legislation.
Monday marked one month since a mass shooting on the campus of Michigan State University that killed three students and injured five more.
“We have faced a lot of challenges over the past four years. But the days after those shootings were, without question, the very heaviest and hardest,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at the rally. “What can you say to a parent who’s lost a child to gun violence? What can you say to young people who are terrorized and terrified just to go to school? The good news is we do not have to live like this, and we will not live like this anymore.”
Since the shooting on Feb. 13, the new Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate have introduced and held hearings on universal background check, safe storage and red flag legislation. Similar legislation was introduced following a shooting at Oxford High School in 2021 but the GOP-controlled Legislature took no action.
“We can finally do something productive with our anger, and our frustration, and our pain,” said Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids). “Because now, the majority of lawmakers in this Legislature are willing to finally do something about gun violence.”
Brinks addressed students who have expressed frustration with a cycle of inaction following tragic events like the ones at MSU and Oxford.
“If you’re skeptical, I don’t blame you. How many times have we witnessed a horrific tragedy, only to be met with silence from those with the power to do something about it? Far too many,” Brinks said. “This new majority knows that this is some of the most important work that we will do in our time serving in this Legislature. And my pledge to you is that we are going to get the job done.”
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) said that Michigan acting quickly on the legislation will set a national example.
“Michigan is going to be a place where we have a tragic event, and we do something within eight weeks,” Slotkin said. “We are going to tell the world that as a state where many of us grew up hunting, we can protect our children and our Second Amendment rights; there is no damn hypocrisy there.”
Slotkin, who is running for U.S. Senate, said she is the first member of the House to represent a district with two school shootings.
Other Democratic lawmakers at the rally included Attorney General Dana Nessel, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) and House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit).
According to recent polling by Glengariff Group, a majority of voters support the bills being considered by the Legislature, with 88% of participants saying they would favor universal background checks, 80% supporting safe storage requirements, and 75% backing red flag laws.
The poll also found support for going even farther than the bills currently proposed by the Michigan Legislature.
Among 600 registered voters surveyed, 75% said they would support a 14-day waiting period to purchase a firearm, 74% favored raising the minimum age to purchase guns from 18 to 21 years old, 60% support capacity limits on magazines and 55% backed the idea of a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons.
More than half the respondents in the poll, 56%, said someone in their household owned a gun.
“There’s a whole slew of legislation that I think should be considered, but you start with what you have and move from there,” Slotkin said. “I think this is the beginning. We don’t want to be making this a partisan issue, and I don’t believe it is a partisan issue. But the Republican lawmakers are the last ones to get the memo on this. They’re scared of the minority of people who are vocal and who are out of touch with the majority.”
Brinks criticized her predecessor’s response to the Oxford shooting. Former Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said that “if we get obsessed with eliminating all risks, we will then develop and evolve into a country we won’t recognize.”
“We would become a state, they said, we would become a country we don’t recognize any more,” Brinks said. “That’s interesting to me, because they don’t seem to have a problem accepting that we have become a country that willfully accepts the death of children and innocent people as a daily occurrence, like it’s just another news article.”
A small group of pro-gun activists shouted and played siren noises on megaphones throughout the event, including while Madeline Johnson, an Oxford survivor and co-president of No Future Without Today, spoke about losing her best friend in that school shooting.
“I still remember her smiling and waving at me as she turned the corner, unknowingly walking directly into the path of the shooter,” Johnson said.
The three students who lost their lives at MSU are Brian Fraser, Arielle Anderson and Alexandria Verner. Four students died in the Oxford shooting: Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling and Hana St. Juliana.
“Tate, Hana, Justin, Madisyn, Brian, Arielle and Alexandria deserved to live,” Johnson said. “I want you to know that your ignorance has failed them, and your selfishness has cost them their lives.”
Giffords gave brief remarks discussing her own experience with gun violence as the counter-protesters continued shouting.
“Our lives can change so quickly. Mine did when I was shot. But I never gave up hope. I chose to make a new start, to move ahead, to not look back. I’m relearning so many things: how to walk, how to talk,” Giffords said. “I’m finding joy in small things: riding my bike, playing the French horn, going to the gym, laughing with friends.”
“I’ve learned so much. I learned that people care for each other, and working together, progress is possible,” Giffords said.
Slotkin called the counter-protesters “the death knell of a movement that has no care and consideration for our children.”
Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Paula Herbart said that the protestors did not faze her after years of experience in the classroom.
“I taught middle school for 20 years, and if you think that shit bothers me, you’re just damn wrong,” Herbart said. “You make a plan, you stick to the plan, and you ignore the noise.”
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