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MSU Students Oppose Returning to Classes, Push for Gun Control at the Capitol

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by Kyle Davidson, Michigan Advance
February 21, 2023

A sea of green and white covered the Capitol lawn Monday afternoon as students shared stories, music and poetry, demanding change from politicians and protesting Michigan State University’s return to classes a week after a mass shooting that killed three students and wounded five more. 

Event organizer and MSU junior Maya Manuel outlined a list of student demands intended to promote student safety and wellbeing, including taking the week to build community and heal, providing meals for commuter students without a meal plan, and additional security cameras, lights and keycard locks on campus. 

“You got a week, a week to implement these things. And now you expect us to go back to class under the same circumstances of Monday,” Manuel said, referring to Feb. 13, the day of the mass shooting. 

David Hogg, a national gun control advocate and survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida, joined speakers on the Capitol steps. Hogg encouraged the crowd to take action by holding political leaders accountable and running for office. 

“People in places like this for our entire lives have failed our generation,” said Hogg, a co-founder of March for Our Lives who was last in Lansing in October for a get-out-the-vote effort sponsored by several progressive groups.

“What many politicians, regardless of political party, rely on is complacency. They get comfortable,” Hogg said. “In my view, the only good politician is a scared politician. Specifically one scared of young people rising up and voting and running against them and replacing them if we have to. Are you ready to do that?”

Other students echoed Hogg’s sentiments, calling for action from politicians in attendance. 

“To the politicians here today, know that attendance is not absolution from further responsibility,” said Dylan Gebhard, an MSU senior who has worked in the Michigan House of Representatives for the past two years. “I and so many more here will be here to hold you responsible, and we will remember in November.”

“To the politicians and my colleagues who are not here today, know that hiding from reality is unacceptable. Gun violence does not see political affiliation,” Gebhard said. 

Before students gathered at the Capitol, Hogg and Pamela Pugh, president of the state Board of Education, hosted a morning press conference to discuss policy efforts with state legislators, educators and activists.

Hogg and Pugh were joined by state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) and state Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac), who both lead the Michigan Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus.

The conference also hosted representatives from the Lansing chapter of the NAACP, March for Our Lives MSU, the Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools, Black Lives Matter Michigan, One Love Global, the Michigan Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the Union of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty at Michigan State University.

On Thursday, Bayer and other Democrats in the Senate introduced 11 bills aimed at reducing gun violence. 

Senate Bills 7678 would require universal background check for gun sales. Senate Bills 7982 introduce safe storage requirements for gun owners. Senate Bills 8386 would allow for extreme risk protection orders, or red flag laws, which would allow law enforcement to seize firearms if they believe the owner is a danger to themself or others.

Bayer said the bills will have a hearing on Thursday.  

While Democratic legislators introduced similar bills in previous legislative sessions, these efforts stalled in committee, unable to receive a hearing without Republican support.

Alongside the current legislative efforts, students from March For Our Lives MSU encouraged further action, including bans on assault weapons, improved funding for mental health services, strengthening laws on domestic violence, and implementing educational campaigns centered on gun safety.

House Republican leaders released a statement last Tuesday after the shooting announcing a bipartisan package of bills, House Bills 40884100, which would support school safety efforts and access mental health resources. The legislation did not address gun reform.  

While legislators are working to build up mental health resources, there’s more to the story, Bayer said. 

“By putting some just sensible regulation in place, we can reduce gun violence. It’s proven in other states and proven in lots of other countries,” Bayer said. 

Alongside universal background checks, safe storage and red flag laws, Bayer said the Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus are reviewing bills introduced in previous years and working with gun violence prevention groups to examine policies that have been effective outside of Michigan.  

“We understand that this is an epidemic that needs to be stopped now. We don’t want to wait until later on. We don’t want to wait [for] the next incident. We need to have sensible gun reform now,” Carter said. 

“This is not politics; this is policy.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.