On the steps of the Michigan Capitol, just over a month after a shooting that killed three and injured five at Michigan State University, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took the hand of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and escorted her to the podium.
Giffords, a survivor of a 2011 shooting that left her with critical brain injuries, traveled to Michigan to advocate for the passage of a series of gun control measures currently undergoing hearings in the Michigan legislature. Her appearance drew a crowd of both supporters and counter-protestors to the lawn of the Capitol on Wednesday morning.
The bill package, which includes action on universal background checks, safe storage of firearms, and “red flag” laws, was introduced shortly after the events of Feb. 13 at MSU's campus. Many lawmakers as well as Whitmer said at Wednesday’s rally said she hope to see the package head to her desk in the next few weeks.
Whitmer, like other speakers, echoed the phrase “common sense gun legislation” when discussing the bills currently on the table and said she believed the majority of Michiganders agree on the three issues that will be addressed by the bill package.
“I cannot wait to sign that bill into law,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer and Giffords were joined on the steps by other state lawmakers, MSU students, U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Debbie Dingell and Attorney General Dana Nessel. Slotkin said she was impressed with the quick response of lawmakers after the shooting at MSU.
“The shooting at Michigan State was on the 13th of February and here we are, almost exactly a month later, and we're poised to pass legislation potentially in the next 10 business days,” Slotkin said.
Meanwhile, psychology junior Maya Manuel, who’s been active in organizing rallies said she won’t rest until she sees the legislation passed.
“I won't be satisfied until I see change,” Manuel said. “Words can talk but actions speak louder, and I think the minute that these legislators get their hands on these bills and pass them to get to Governor (Whitmer) at least, I think that's when I'll be satisfied.”
The sirens of megaphones and shouts of counter-protesters were ever-present throughout the rally. Many counter-protestors at the rally were vocal, carrying bullhorns and chanting pro-gun phrases. Others said they hoped to have conversations with those rallying in support of gun control.
Barbara, a gun owner who traveled from Alma to protest the rally, said that she wants to be able to carry her firearm for self-defense.
“I'm here because I am a responsible gun owner,” she said. “And I don't like the idea of having a government tell me that I can’t go into a public rest area, because they don't want me carrying my gun in there.”
Slotkin addressed the counter-protestors in the crowd and called their chants the “death rattle of an out-of-touch movement.”
Slotkin said she felt the pro-gun members of the crowd didn’t represent the majority of gun owners in Michigan.
“The average person, the average gun owner in the state of Michigan would never come and scream when a gun violence survivor is speaking, they would never refuse to talk about gun safety for their own children,” Slotkin said.
When Giffords spoke, she said that she was determined to make the country safer after her experience with gun violence.
“My own recovery has taken me years,” Giffords said. “Many, many people have helped me along the way and I learned so much. I learned that when people care for each other and work together, progress is possible.”
The rally was organized in part by Giffords’ policy and law organization, Giffords Center for Violence Intervention, which advocates around the country for various gun violence prevention policies.
Slotkin said she admires the work Giffords continues to do on behalf of survivors and victims of shootings.
“She was shot in the head at a public rally, doing her democratic responsibilities,” Slotkin said. “And she didn't just accept it. She fought to get back her speech and her walking and now started an organization that's helping states pass laws.”
The rally also featured Michigan Education Association President Paula Hebart, who commended MEA members in the crowd for their advocacy in the wake of school shootings. Marcie Kamienecki, an MEA member and former teacher, said she felt optimistic about the forthcoming legislation’s ability to give students security and closure.
“I'm sorry that we failed you thus far, but we're going to do everything we can as an organization to make sure that we keep you safe, because you deserve that,” Kamienecki said.
Whitmer ended her speech promising the crowd that gun violence prevention laws are on the horizon.
“The good news is we do not have to live like this and we will not live like this anymore,” Whitmer said. That's why we are here today. Of course we can and we will take action. We know that every person has the right and the freedom to feel safe in their place of worship, and their place of education in their neighborhood in that workplace in our community.”