Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Community members rally against gun violence at Michigan Capitol

February 16, 2024
Psychology senior and activist Maya Manuel speaks at the podium while MSU students rally behind her on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol for the sit down protest against gun violence on Feb. 15, 2024.
Psychology senior and activist Maya Manuel speaks at the podium while MSU students rally behind her on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol for the sit down protest against gun violence on Feb. 15, 2024. —
Photo by Brianna Schmidt | The State News

Students Demand Action and Sit Down MSU rallied against gun violence at the Lansing Capitol on Feb. 15, exactly a year after their first sit-down protest following the Feb. 13, 2023 MSU shooting. 

Before she founded Sit Down MSU, psychology senior Maya Manuel said that she knew very little about gun violence or gun legislation. The Feb. 13, 2023 shooting sparked her passion for gun safety. 

"Today, I stand with you to remember the three innocent lives we lost on Feb. 13, the 120 we lose to gun violence daily, the millions of Americans who now know someone who has been taken from us due to gun violence," Manuel said. "We cannot fall back and wait for another tragedy to make change. It is simply not fair for those who cannot stand up anymore."

Manuel said that the issue of gun violence should be non-partisan. 

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Representative Emily Dievendorf shows up for MSU students at the sit down protest against gun violence at the Michigan State Capitol on Feb. 15, 2024.

"A shooter does not care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat," Manuel said, addressing Michigan’s legislators. "If you stop yourself at political limits, then you never had the capacity for a humanitarian one. This means you do not deserve a seat. You do not deserve power if you can’t turn our pain into your passion, and passion into a position."

"Brian, Arielle, Alexandria do not deserve for us to fall silent," Manuel said. "Our five survivors do not deserve for us to step down when they need us most."

Social relations policy junior Saylor Reinders, who co-runs MSU’s chapter of Students Demand Action, told the crowd that "this tragedy never should have happened."

"Despite the anger, sadness, grief, confusion and just trying to be a college student, we never stopped showing up," Reinders said. "I am proud of the tireless work of students who showed up right at the Capitol a year ago and every day since."

Since last Feb. 13, four new gun safety bills have been signed into law. Governor Whitmer signed the Extreme Risk Protection Order in May, which can temporarily remove weapons from households with an individual in crisis. Michigan is expanding universal background checks, requiring guns to be properly stored. This state is also instituting a red-flag law, preventing guns from falling into the hands of individuals in crisis. 

"While I’m grateful for those changes, I’m also angry they didn’t happen sooner," Reinders said. "So today, I stand here again, asking our lawmakers to continue to take actions and enact meaningful change."

Reinders said the MSU community spent Feb. 13 grieving the shooting’s one-year anniversary, with Parkland shooting’s five-year anniversary happening the next day.

"But we can’t even properly mourn these tragedies without more shootings taking place," Reinders said. "It’s incomprehensible that people can’t go to a Super Bowl parade in Kansas City, Missouri, or students can’t go to school in Atlanta, Georgia without facing the nightmares of gun violence."

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An MSU student holds a sign reading “Protect Our Future” on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol for the sit down protest against gun violence on Feb. 15, 2024.

"Let’s use our power for good, for love, for change," Reinders continued. "I’ve learned that we cannot do this alone. Today, let’s tell our legislators what this cause means to us. In the days ahead, let’s educate our friends and families. In a week and a half, go out and vote in the primaries."

Reinders thanked Representative Emily Dievendorf (D-77th District), the only Michigan legislator who attended the rally.

After the speeches, students headed inside the Capitol building to ask questions and discuss gun safety with four legislators, including Dievendorf, Representative Penelope Tsernoglou (D-75th District) and Representative Sam Singh (D-28th District).

Dievendorf told those gathered in the House Speaker’s Conference Room of the Michigan Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus in Lansing. They also talked of proposed bills promoting gun safety, but these bills often progress slowly, especially as no Michigan Republicans are willing to vote for them.

"We have an opportunity to ... move in the direction of safety and caring more for each other instead of reacting and responding by setting up more security measures and shifting our schools into places where folks feel like they are essentially protected by bullet-proof glass and security guards," Dievendorf said. "This is our opportunity to take schools back to places of learning, and take a social responsibility to make our communities safe."

Dievendorf also stressed that many community organizations dedicated to community mental health and preventing gun violence are under-resourced, underfunded, and under-supported because people are unaware of these organizations.

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"It should not be left to non-profits and individuals ... to fix messes that have been created by lack of structure and stability and public policy," Dievendorf concluded. "We should be supporting all of it, but we should especially be supporting our communities," she said. 

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