Thursday, September 28, 2023

Michigan State Board of Education president condemns gun violence as a public health threat

August 31, 2023
<p>A protestor holds a sign saying "I can't believe we're still debating this. #ENOUGH" at the Gabby Giffords gun rally at the Michigan State Capitol on March 15, 2023.</p>

A protestor holds a sign saying "I can't believe we're still debating this. #ENOUGH" at the Gabby Giffords gun rally at the Michigan State Capitol on March 15, 2023.

Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

Michigan State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh condemned the state of gun violence in the country, labeling the issue as a public health crisis and calling for “urgent reform” as a federal ban on assault rifles in a tweet on Monday, Aug. 28.

The tweet was published hours after an associate professor was shot and killed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Monday afternoon. Two days after, three individuals were shot and killed by a gunman in a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, firearm-related injuries are the number one cause of death for children across the country, surpassing motor vehicle crashes in 2020.

End Gun Violence Michigan executive director Ryan Bates said the statistic was horrifying.

“The number of deaths and injuries that are occurring that are completely 100% preventable,” Bates said. “So, we need an all society effort to end this horrific plague of gun violence. That means every school, every health care provider, every law enforcement agency, local government and volunteer organizations like churches, block clubs, boys and Girl Scouts all need to be integrating gun violence prevention, advocacy and services into their work.” 

MSU PhD student Stephen Oliphant, who studied firearm policy and violence prevention, said Michigan has taken essential steps in preventing gun violence. Michigan’s three recent firearm policies, relating to universal background checks, safe storage regulations and extreme protection orders, reflect an understanding of gun violence as a public health threat, Oliphant said. 

“The three main laws that Michigan passed address a few of the main drivers of gun violence,” Oliphant said. “I think Michigan is taking a fairly comprehensive approach to try to address that issue in the state.”

While the recently passed prevention laws are a step towards reform, Bates said there is still a lot that needs to be changed: primarily, effort to protect domestic violence survivors from gun violence.

“31 other states have laws that prevent anyone convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm; Michigan is not one of those states,” Bates said. “Abusers convicted of (domestic violence) misdemeanor are allowed to have a firearm in Michigan, and that's a law that the legislature could and should change immediately.”

Bates also said stronger regulation of extended magazines, or firearm attachments to carry more bullets, is necessary.

“You don't need an extended magazine to go hunting,” Bates said. “You don't need an extended magazine for personal protection. The only reason you need an extended magazine is for a mass shooting.”

In her tweet, Pugh called for a federal ban on assault rifles. She said laws like those recently passed in Michigan need to be nationalized and there needs to be a federal focus on gun violence as a public health threat.

“It's beyond time to look at (gun violence) statistics,” Pugh said. “I know that there are people who are doing that and legislators who are working hard to do that. … We saw this as a public health threat that needs the attention of all of our federal legislators.” 

Pugh, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, said a public health agenda including gun violence is a top priority for her platform.

“My background is public health, and whether I'm talking about environmental issues … the air we breathe, the water we drink, ... we also have to look at our social environment to ensure the health and safety of our children,” Pugh said.

Bates said he hopes that a continued fight for firearm reform will prevent more young people from experiencing gun violence.

“My heart goes out to all the students at MSU who've come back to school and many of whom are being met with reminders of a horrible tragedy,” Bates said. “No one should have to experience what you young people experienced, and if we keep at it, hopefully no one else will have to.”

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