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Spartans Against Gun Violence advocates for safety, mental health, empathy

December 8, 2022
<p>Co-presidents Hailey Kenward (left), student relations sophomore, and genetics and molecular sciences junior Zoe Haden (right) lead the Spartans Against Gun Violence club here at MSU. Photo taken at the Union on Nov. 21, 2022. </p>

Co-presidents Hailey Kenward (left), student relations sophomore, and genetics and molecular sciences junior Zoe Haden (right) lead the Spartans Against Gun Violence club here at MSU. Photo taken at the Union on Nov. 21, 2022.

Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

A group of students at Michigan State University recently created a student organization to fight for gun safety and against gun violence. Each member is inspired by each of their unique personal connections to the issue.

Spartans Against Gun Violence is an official, recently established chapter of the March For Our Lives, or MFOL organization, a youth-led non-profit organization. Co-president and genomics and molecular genetics junior Zoe Haden started the organization with public relations sophomore and co-president Hailey Kenward.

To Haden, empathy is key in the fight against gun violence. They are from Oxford, and their sister was at Oxford High School on the day of the shooting. After this tragedy, Haden was compelled to get involved with advocacy.

“When that shooting happened, it not only was close to home, it was in my home, my family,” Haden said. “That fear that I felt when my sister texted me there's a shooter in the school, I don't want anyone to have to feel that. I don't think anyone should ever have to feel that."

Haden said bringing awareness to the fact that this happens to people everywhere can really help bring about more empathy for the people affected and the victims' families.


Lyman Briggs sophomore Joseph Kesto, who manages the organization’s social media, is also in support of an assault weapons ban. Kesto was inspired to get more involved with gun violence prevention after the May school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. His brothers were around the same age as the victims, he said.

Additionally, the group advocates for improved mental health care and awareness of mental well-being. Mass shootings are sometimes linked to mental illness – but this is not the only type of gun violence the group is focused on.

“No one really talks about how high the suicide rates with guns are,” Haden said. “Mental health awareness and being provided with help is so important with both ends of the gun violence spectrum.”

Members have also lobbied for safe-storage laws, legislation that requires firearms to be stored, locked and unloaded when not in use. 

This also includes holding parents accountable for negligent gun storage, Kesto said. This summer, the parents of the Oxford High School shooter were charged with involuntary manslaughter after their son admitted in court that the gun he used to carry out the shooting was not secured.

Haden said safe-storage legislation can create positive change even for those that want to protect their ownership of guns.

“I feel like some people are just like, ‘Oh, they're going to take away all our guns, we're not going to be able to protect ourselves,’ but it's really not that at all,” Kesto said. We just want basic things to stop school shootings and other mass shootings.”

Haden said there are misconceptions surrounding gun safety advocacy and awareness is important to create change.

“There's so much hate and selfishness from people who genuinely don't understand and don't know, and care more about their guns than the people affected,” they said.

Kenward said the group values a local approach to change, focusing on people they can directly reach.

“If we can't reach the senators and those in the House, then the least we can do is focus on the people that we can impact, like local government officials, people in schools, students, faculty,” Kenward said.

The MFOL organization was created in the wake of the 2018 shooting at Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Several of the MSU organization’s members have ties to this organization. 

Through MFOL, Haden helped the organization lobby for safe-storage bills and mental health checks in high schools. Through events like these, they became more involved with others who share the same goals.

Kesto was a member of MFOL’s Detroit chapter. He was the primary organizer of a fundraising event held in Detroit’s Hart Plaza that raised over $2,000 for the chapter. Kesto, Kenward and Haden each attended the original March For Our Lives march in Washington, which took place after the Parkland shooting.

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“It was just so inspiring, being a student in high school and seeing all of these other high schoolers up on this platform, speaking about something that they cared about,” Kenward said. “It really inspired me to become involved, because it is people our age attempting to make a difference, putting their views and their voices out there.”

The group’s connection to MFOL affords them funding benefits and connections they wouldn’t have otherwise, Haden said. 

As the only chapter in the Greater Lansing area, the group hopes to bring awareness of the organization to the region, Kenward said. In addition to holding marches, the group plans to leverage their proximity to Michigan’s Capitol and lobby for legislation that supports their goals.

Despite a local approach, members of Spartans Against Gun Violence have had the opportunity to meet with members of Congress through their work and their connections with MFOL. Members have met with U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. Kesto said he had the opportunity to talk to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Kesto stressed that anyone is welcome to Spartans Against Gun Violence, and that the group is non-partisan.

“We just want people who really want gun violence prevention, you don't have to be a Democrat, you don't have to be a Republican,” he said.

Spartans Against Gun Violence meets biweekly at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. The group doesn’t have an official meeting place yet but Interested students can sign up at the link in the organization’s Instagram account.


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