The Capitol Lawn on Tuesday morning was split down the middle: those exclaiming for action and government change in the building they were standing in front of, and those who brought bull horns and their own signs to counter protest the rally against gun violence, speaking out about their second amendment rights.
Gabby Giffords is a former Arizona U.S. representative who was shot in January 2011. Since then, she has become a dedicated advocate for gun violence prevention.
Giffords and the other speakers had to yell over the boos to be heard, the desire for individuals to be heard in the Michigan political sphere being loud.
Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart said she was there to speak teachers being faced with unrelenting gun violence.
“Zero excuses anymore,” Herbart said in her speech. “Zero excuses. I refuse to continue to watch innocent children be gunned down by people who shouldn't have a gun (and) watching our communities be torn apart.”
Herbart said lawmakers needed to take action to protect students.
Neuroscience sophomore Joseph Kesto, a member of Spartans Against Gun Violence. He stood in front of the Capitol for his ninth speech since Feb. 13. He said that while time progresses, most of his words have been lost while the world continues to move on, yet his own community continues to deal with the trauma. His family immigrated to the United States from Iraq in the early 2000s to provide his family with the promise of safety.
“On Feb. 13, 2023, at exactly 8:13 p.m., that dream was stolen and shattered into pieces when their eldest son was trapped in a lockdown zone on campus,” Kesto said in his speech.
Kesto said he is demanding a safer future for himself and his three younger siblings.
“The shattered pieces of the American Dream have formed a new one for me: one where I can live without fear where gun violence is no longer a daily reality and dream of resilience, courage and determination as I fight for a better future for our community,” Kesto said in his speech. “We have to take matters into our own hands.”
Students Demand Action MSU chapter President and Comparative Cultures and Politics junior Saylor Reinders spoke of how the students who survived are still reliving the moment they had to run for cover.
“As a country, we've accepted this is the reality of being young in America: shootings on campus and traumatized students at vigils instead of classes,” Reinders said in her speech.
Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, Internal Affairs and Administration Vice President Carl Austin Miller Grondin was also present. Though he did not make a speech, he said he wanted to be here to show solidarity with the struggle he even spent his spring break working on, meeting with legislators and planning more events.
“I have been telling people that what is getting me through each and every day is knowing that the campus I leave behind will be a campus that is safer for my sister, who is a freshman – and knowing that my fellow students aren't stopping,” Grondin said. “The Spartan community has definitely been like the light of my life. Knowing that they still need somebody to be in those spaces, making sure that our voices are heard, is what has kept me going.”
Grondin said his coworkers in ASMSU have helped keep him grounded after the shooting.
“While we may be tired, while we may be angry, we have continuously fought because we don't want to be another statistic,” Grondin said. “I believe right now that the entire Spartan community is not thinking about our community solely anymore. We're thinking about every single other college. We're thinking about every single student, whether or not they are Spartans.”
Psychology sophomore Asha Denny has now spoken at many protests and in front of the Senate hearings for the common sense gun law package heading through the Michigan Legislature. She went home on spring break to work on herself and through her trauma.
“I feel like it's definitely what I'm still working on because between activism and healing, I feel like they sometimes go hand in hand, but sometimes they don't,” Denny said. “It's like reliving it.”
With Giffords there, Denny got to depict how the movement begins with students and ends with legislature, having large names come to support her and her community. On the other hand, she did not appreciate those who were counter protesting the rally with loud sirens that sound like police cars, something all MSU students look at differently now.
“If you have an opinion, bring a sign, come talk, but you're not going to talk over student survivors because you're never going to get what it's like,” Denny said.
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Shane Trejo was one of the counter-protestors, feeling the need to come to work against what he believes is different special interest lobbying groups looking to take away his second amendment rights, finding the rally offensive and not wanting to comply with.
Trejo, as first reported by Bridge Michigan, sometimes goes by the name Sean Trujillo, has made threats against the Patmos Public Library, writing on social media, that it was "time to shut down the library by force."
Trejo advocated for what he calls "constitutional carry," which would allow students to go through training to carry on campus. He said without this many students on campus would feel like sitting ducks.
He also does not believe mandated mental health legislation or the “red flag” gun laws that would take the weapons out of the hands of people at risk for violence is the answer either.
“These are, I think, the most dangerous of all the laws and it shows how the idea of protecting mental health will be used to justify some of the most heinous infringements of the Second Amendment and our core rights,” Trejo said.
Throughout the protest, students were able to tell the stories they have been reflecting on for a month while others worked against what they thought would be infringing rights that would hinder Michigan’s gun policies.
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