‘We need you to keep fighting for our lives’ ⋆

As several state firearm regulation laws will go into effect next month, Michigan government, law enforcement, health and advocacy leaders are gathering this week to review progress made and call attention to further action needed to prevent violence.

Gun violence has touched the lives of every Michigander, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said Monday at the start of the Michigan Gun Violence Prevention Summit held virtually on Monday and Tuesday. Beyond having the god-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Gilchrist added individuals should have the right to live without the fear of gun violence looming over them at work, at home or at school.

“Every single death by a gun in Michigan and America in the world is 100% preventable,” Gilchrist said. “That means that we have the power to stop all of this death and all of our communities — no matter what community you live in. No matter what the shape and spirit of gun violence looks like. No matter whether it is suicide or homicide, they are all preventable.”

Gilchrist spoke alongside other gun violence stakeholders, including Maya Manuel, 21, a student advocate at Michigan State University’s campus where a deadly shooting killed three students and injured five others on Feb. 13.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist speaks at a bill signing event for a package of firearm regulations, East Lansing, April 13, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

Two days after the shooting, Manuel helped organize a sit-in where a sea of students sat in front of the state Capitol building to demand better protections against school shootings. They were joined by several lawmakers and over the next few weeks a host of gun safety bills made their way through the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

“I want to remind everyone that we came from a school lockdown generation and we’ve been preparing for this our whole lives. … We are experts in finding an escape route,” Manuel said. “It is unfortunate that at 20 years old at the time … less than a year ago, I’d already begun thinking about writing my will and that’s not something that a 20-year-old should do, let alone a 5-year-old or a 10-year-old.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last spring signed several gun safety bills, but they don’t go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourned, which makes them effective on Feb. 13 — which happens to be the first anniversary of the MSU shooting.

On that day, Michigan will begin to require universal background checks for all firearm sales, expanding the existing state requirements for pistol sales to all firearms.

Michigan will also begin to allow Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO), also known as “red flag” laws, where a judge will be permitted to temporarily prohibit individuals from accessing firearms if that person presents a danger to themselves or others.

New laws will also require firearms to be safely stored in the presence of minors. Federally licensed firearm dealers in Michigan will be required to include written notification of this requirement in sales and individuals who either knowingly or neglectfully leave a firearm unattended where a minor could access it can face criminal penalties.

Changes were made to the law, Gichrist said, but it is up to elected officials and citizens to hold those in power accountable to ensure the changes are implemented, not simply words on a page.

“This is an opportunity for us to prepare to challenge those who are comfortable with people dying of preventable deaths in the state of Michigan. I am not comfortable with that. Gov. Whitmer is not comfortable with that,” Gilchrist said. 

“On the flip side … somebody was. There were people who were. … We have a responsibility to make sure this is implemented well and that people who did not take action when they had the opportunity this time around are held accountable for that.”

Michigan has had the opportunity for decades to act on gun violence and specifically gun violence against children in schools, said Ryan Bates, executive director of End Gun Violence Michigan. And unfortunately, Michigan has seen a previous mass shooting at a school in recent years.

The March with Oxford in Centennial Park on June 17, 2023 included remembrances of those lost to the 2021 Oxford High School shooting and calls for gun reform. | Lily Guiney

On Nov. 30, 2021, a 15-year-old student at Oxford High School in metro Detroit shot and killed four students and injured seven other individuals. The shooter was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole at the end of last year, and his parents are currently facing involuntary manslaughter charges for lack of intervention and access given to their son to the murder weapon.

“We all imagined that after this surely our previous Legislature would act; surely this time would be different,” Bates said.

Safe storage, extreme risk protection orders and background checks were all introduced in the last legislative session, Bates pointed out where Republicans held leadership of both chambers and still didn’t take up the bills even after the Oxford High School mass shooting.

“We organized. The students started and soon after they were joined by their parents, their teachers, people of faith, community organizations, and soon together we built a movement big enough to take on the gun lobby,” Bates said. “While some politicians literally hid from survivors of Oxford and MSU, Gov. Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Gilchrist attended the victims’ funerals. Some politicians told grieving parents that they would love to help [but] they were too afraid of the next election. … Some politicians made excuses; Gov. Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist delivered.”

Students demand change at Capitol after MSU mass shooting, House passes memorial resolution

And reforms to Michigan’s gun policies went further last year, specifically in the realm of domestic violence.

On Feb. 13, state law will begin to allow for an eight-year ban on possession or distributing firearms for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence-related offenses. Previously, restrictions only applied once the violence escalated to a felony, which supporters of the expansion said can often be too late due to the often lethal nature of domestic violence.

As gun violence stakeholders talked about the future on Monday, some offering thanks to young people like Manuel for the work they’ve done to put pressure on elected officials to implement gun reforms, Manuel concluded her thoughts saying though it is monumental to be seen and heard, the burden of preventing gun violence should have never fallen to students.

“None of this should have happened in the first place and none of us should be here at this conference. And I only wish that for the future generations, the only stress that they have is stressing about a breakup with their boyfriend or girlfriend or homework and finals,” Manuel said. “I wish for the future generations that the only thing that they worry about when going home is to see their mama or to celebrate Valentine’s Day with the person they love. … We’ve been living like this for our whole lives and we’ll keep fighting, but … we need you to keep fighting for our lives.”

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authored by Anna Liz Nichols
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2024%2F01%2F29%2Fwe-need-you-to-keep-fighting-for-our-lives%2F

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