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State Rep. Tsernoglou hosts listening session following shooting

February 22, 2023
<p>Michigan House Rep Penelope Tsernoglou listens to her constituents on Feb. 21, 2023.</p>

Michigan House Rep Penelope Tsernoglou listens to her constituents on Feb. 21, 2023.

State Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou, of the 75th Congressional District, hosted a listening session to hear from people affected by the mass shooting on MSU's campus. The meeting followed a week of protests and demands for gun control legislation across the state and at the capitol. 

Since the mass shooting, Tsernoglou has heard from many constituents and attended a rally at the Capitol and campus vigils. She said one message has come across loud and clear: people want gun safety legislation. 

She said she supports “every piece of gun legislation that makes us safer,” including bills advocating for universal background checks and red flag laws. Tsernoglou said these bills don’t go far enough, and she plans on introducing her own gun legislation soon. 

But she said she wanted to hear from her community first and decided the listening session would give the community an opportunity to tell her what legislative action they want moving forward. 

“What I'm hearing is that people want to see gun safety legislation so that we can do as much as we can to prevent things like this from happening in the future,” Tsernoglou said. “No one thing will really prevent everything, but every little thing that we can do hopefully can do something. So, I'm just hearing people. People are scared. People want to see the change, and people want to be safe. And I want to do what I can.”

The meeting took place on Feb. 21 at Edgewood United Church. Throughout the four-hour session, a couple dozen people shared their opinions with the representative and with each other. The conversations included discussions of gun safety laws, banning certain firearms, firearm industry lobbyists, civilian-led ballot initiatives, policies in other states, mental health resource availability and more. 

Okemos resident and MSU alumnus Erik Lindquist attended the meeting to discuss gun violence, which he said was out of control. 

“It's part of our obligation as citizens to address members of the legislature and tell them what we think,” Lindquist said. “We're now facing this horrible tragedy and I can't think of anything more important to us right now than getting our arms around this problem locally and trying to see where we can influence the future legislation, improve the chances of these things not happening again."

Lindquist said now is the time to come together to create a solution, and that politicians need to admit there is a gun violence problem. He said the cycle of a mass shooting, followed by “thoughts and prayers,” and then silence, cannot continue. 

“We're spinning our wheels and people are dying because of it,” Lindquist said. 

Lindquist said the issue of gun violence has always been important to him and he has been affected emotionally by past mass shootings. But the physical and emotional proximity of the MSU shooting evoked a unique visceral feeling that made the situation feel more real.

He said most people have at least one degree of separation from these tragedies, but when it happens in their own community, it’s a gut punch. 

Similarly, attendee Christopher Smith felt a unique emotional reaction after the Feb. 13 shooting. Smith is an MSU criminal justice professor who taught in Berkey Hall this semester.

Smith, who serves as chair of the board of the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, has always been invigorated by gun violence, but the recent shooting intensified his emotional connection to the issue. 

However, Smith said because of MSU’s size, he is not alone in his emotional attachment to the issue. He said following the MSU shooting, people across the state and members of the state government feel a close proximity to the issue of gun violence. He said he hopes this will motivate legislators to act on gun control policies and take inspiration from other states to enact strict policies. 

“The governor, in her State of the State address, listed three things that were her priorities … safe storage, background checks and extreme risk protection orders,” Smith said. “My position is that's just a start. This is the opportunity, with both houses of the legislature aligned with the governor, to go beyond that and think more boldly.” 

While most of the session’s attendees discussed gun safety, mental health counselor Stephanie Niemela said action needs to address both gun safety and mental health at the community level. 

“I think it's valuable for there to be several conversations, much more than just one,” Niemela said. “I don't think it's just one issue. I think it's a puzzle.” 

Tsernoglou said the listening session showed her new ideas and perspectives from her constituents and also affirmed her support of gun safety legislation. Tsernoglou also said the combination of legislative action with citizen-led initiatives would be most effective and show that there is a strong, widespread desire for change.

“I hope that we can make changes,” Tsernoglou said. “There's nothing I can say or do that will change what happened already, but I hope that we can make changes for the future.”

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