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Educators, student advocates lobby legislature to combat gun violence after MSU shooting

Hundreds of MSU students held a sit-in on the Capitol lawn in Lansing.
Michelle Jokisch-Polo
Hundreds of MSU students held a sit-in on the state Capitol lawn in Lansing Monday.

Educators, gun safety advocates and students took to the State Capitol in Lansing on Monday to urge Michigan legislators to pass laws to combat gun violence.

The push comes on the heels of a mass shooting at Michigan State University that left three students dead and five hospitalized.

On Monday morning, MSU students and activists with the group March for Our Lives flanked an array of speakers who voiced support for gun safety legislation. The conference was intentionally placed between the State Capitol building and Board of Education office.

Multiple educators said the legislature needs reforms that would protect schools from gun violence, including new gun storage requirements and universal background checks for those purchasing firearms.

Pamela Pugh stands in front of a crowd of students as she holds a microphone. Many wear MSU apparel or March for Our Lives shirts.
Arjun Thakkar
Pamela Pugh calls on the legislature to enact gun safety legislation.

Democrats have introduced bills in the state Senate that would implement these changes as well as extreme risk protection orders. These provisions, also known as “red-flag laws,” would allow courts to temporarily deny firearm access to individuals who they believe pose a risk to themselves or others.

Michigan Board of Education President Pamela Pugh thanked Democratic officials for supporting gun safety laws but called on Republicans to back the measures.

“We are not asking, we are demanding that policy be made to protect our children,” Pugh said. “We need everyone to call their friends on the other side of the aisle and tell them now is the time that Michigan must unite.”

Republican lawmakers have expressed support for tightening enforcement of current laws as well as bipartisan proposals to expand mental health resources in schools.

David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida, called on Republicans to break gridlock and collaborate with Democrats on gun safety legislation. He said making progress toward ending gun violence would require a united movement across political and generational boundaries.

David Hogg stands in front of a crowd of students behind the Capitol building.
Arjun Thakkar
David Hogg is calling on Republicans to work with Democrats to protect students from gun violence.

“What we’re doing as a country right now is not working,” Hogg said. ”The cycle that we’re in of endless debate, inaction, is not working. And I know that this is not something that just Democrats are tired of, or just Republicans are tired of. Every single student in America is exhausted.”

The press conference included several speakers who spoke on behalf of the victims of the 2021 Oxford High School shooting in which four students were killed and seven were injured.

MSU student advocates also organized a protest outside the Capitol later in the day on Monday to push for the gun safety legislation.

Instead of returning to classes, hundreds of students chose to participate in a sit-in, just as they did last week. Carrying protest signs and backpacks, MSU students lined up in rows on the Capitol lawn to listen to speakers.

Asha Denny, a recent transfer student at MSU, told the crowd she was not yet ready to go back to business as usual.

Hundreds of students sit and listen to speeches in front of the Capitol building.
Michelle Jokisch-Polo
Hundreds of students sit and listen to speeches in front of the Capitol building.

“How am I supposed to take a test with the same pencils I gripped in my hand and a desperate attempt to fight back against an intruder in my dorm where I'm supposed to feel safe?” she said. “My dorm living room corner where we all hid feels haunted by my thoughts and nightmares where I assumed our dead bodies would lay.”

Denny was one of thousands of students who were forced to hide on campus for several hours last Monday night while an active shooter alert was in place.

Present at the sit in was MSU Student Body Vice President for Internal Administration, Carl Miller Grondin. He said he was on his way back to the campus when he received the active shooter alert on his phone.

“I and 50,000 of my fellow Spartans were locked in the nightmare unable to escape. By 1:10 a.m., the stay-in-place order was lifted and I was finally able to drive to campus when I could get my sister [on campus],” he said.

Gabrielle Bane, a sophomore studying business, told the crowd that last Monday she spent several hours barricading herself inside a locked room in a building on campus.

“With this speech I ask for you to fight with us and for us. To bring justice to victims everywhere and help end gun violence through passing sensible gun laws and restricting who can gain access to firearms,” she said during her speech.

Bane also urged university officials to consider installing devices to prevent anyone outside of the MSU community from entering buildings without a keycard.

In an effort to help students feel safe, the university has increased the police presence on campus. MSU officials haveended instruction at Berkey Hall and the MSU Union for the remainder of the semester. Classes that were held in that building are being hosted elsewhere on campus.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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