Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Spartan advocates for gun control hope for continued reform

February 14, 2024
Senior Charlotte Plotzke poses for a portrait at the Michigan State Music Building on Feb. 7, 2024.
Senior Charlotte Plotzke poses for a portrait at the Michigan State Music Building on Feb. 7, 2024. —
Photo by Jonah Brown | The State News

The first time communication and music senior Charlotte Plotzke was ever involved with activism was after the Feb. 13 shooting. Plotzke planned several community events and said she knew how important it was for young people to step up. 

The event consisted of several lawmakers like Debbie Stabenow speaking about gun violence across the nation

“I just really wanted to join that effort and be part of that, because that's kind of what makes a difference,” Plotzke said. “A lot of the time, people don't think that their voices are important. But then when you have events like that, and when you have the community gathering together, you realize you can make an impact.” 

The women’s march after the overturning of Roe V. Wade, the landmark decision that made abortion legal across the nation, was the first time psychology senior Maya Manuel raised her voice. The second time she raised her voice two days after the Michigan State University shooting on Feb. 13 on the steps of the Capitol building

“Even though I was just one voice in one body, but that's what got me into activism but after the shooting I would say that it was more of a call because of urgency,” Manuel said. “ I was in the position I was because I was I was able to, you know, get home and be in my apartment and be safe. But I know a lot of my peers and a lot of my friends did not have the opportunity to do that.” 

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Senior Maya Manuel poses for a portrait on Feb. 8, 2024.

Two days after the shooting, Manuel posted on her social media urging people to come to the steps of The Capitol building to protest. Manuel said growing up in Lansing she was familiar with gun violence

“It was a call of urgency and to remind people that we shouldn't have to be in the position of acting for change when we voted people in for them to listen to what we need," Manuel said. "A lot of people were like, this is too soon. But in my head, it was something that I think our communities [are] desensitized to.” 

Manuel said if this issue hadn’t been discussed, it would have been “overlooked.” She said telling the politicians how she felt was a bittersweet moment, as she felt good voicing her opinions but “had to remind everyone that we shouldn't be in this position.” 

“I felt like I stepped away from my body for a moment and I just channeled so much of my pain and I put that pain and I turned that into passion,” Manuel said. “By turning that into passion it gave me this position, and I wouldn't call it power, but I would call it a position of love and leadership that I didn't think I was capable of. I felt the obligation to speak my mind. And I did. I said exactly what I needed to say.” 

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Psychology junior Maya Manuel speaks out with emotion at the MSU sit-in protest at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on Feb. 20, 2023.

Still, Manuel doesn’t know what it means to be on that platform voicing her opinions. Instead, she only knew that she wanted to say how she felt and hear what other students felt.

On May 22, 2023, Plotzke was right by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer as the Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation had been signed. This means that one can confiscate firearms of those who pose harm to themselves or others by attaining a court order. 

“It was great to just all be together and, celebrate our efforts,” Plotzke said, as she and other student activists were invited. “We all work together, and we all made our efforts. And so it was great to see everyone. When everything happened, I cried, I was so happy cried tears of joy. It was a powerful thing.” 

Plotzke said that gun lobbying has been preventing this type of legislation from coming into law, breaking down the barriers of "gridlocked legislature.

International relations senior Annie Heitmeier, who is also the event coordinator for Students Demand Action at MSU said she was always passionate about advocacy, and said that gun legislation laws should have been passed before the MSU and Oxford High School shooting as a prevention measure.

“I think passing that legislation was extremely important,” Heitmeier said. “I just don't think it should take our legislators and our lawmakers, a tragedy like Feb. 13 to happen to pass that legislation. We had Oxford. I’m glad about the legislation that was passed but this is something that could have been implemented a lot sooner." 

The primary focus for Students Demand Action was to advocate for gun legislation following the shooting, and “create change throughout Michigan,” Heitmeier said.

“I think we've had some great legislation that is that's starting to go into effect this year, actually, one year after the shooting,” Heitmeir said. “But there's still so much more work to be done.” 

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Senior Charlotte Plotzke poses for a portrait at the Michigan State Music Building on Feb. 7, 2024.

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The legislation that will go into effect includes background checks for all gun purchases, a safe storage law, enacting a law that guns are to be locked up so minors cannot access firearms and extreme risk protection orders. 

 “I really hope is that there's greater awareness on our red flag laws,” Heitmeier said. “It'll only work if there's awareness built around them." 

Heitmeier said her organization is working with the Michigan Democrats to host a voter registration drive, pushing to have student voices heard and electing legislators that will enact these changes

As a member of End Gun Violence Michigan since last summer, Manuel listed the goals the group had set last year – making sure their members were heard by the community, university and government, creating a sense of community by closing any gaps of disconnection and passing gun control laws.

“I want to emphasize that those were the goals that we had set already for, you know, 40 years,” Manuel said."It felt good to be heard. We knew that these were small gestures to save someone's life. It gives a sense of hold[ing] people responsible for these tragedies. It also prevents these tragedies from taking place specifically suicides and school shootings.”

As for the gaps of disconnection, Manuel said everyone is desensitized to their realities

“I don't think that's anyone's fault,” Manuel said. “I think it's something that you have to grow out of, because we've lived with this our whole lives, so I can't blame someone for not understanding the consequences of trauma and the consequences of inaction.”

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Psychology junior Maya Manuel’s shakes hands with students at the End Gun Violence Spartan Strong Protest at the Michigan Capitol on Feb. 17, 2023.

Plotzke and Manuel agreed that although the goals they set in place were achieved, there is still a lot more left to do like expanding
gun control measures like the assault weapons bans, and having more community events to empower people. 

“A lot of the times we live for ourselves because we believe we're living for others,” Manuel said.“[With] the work that I'm doing, I hope we don't have to continuously face this. Because it's tough and it's exhausting to be screaming at a wall. Like I feel like I'm dragging 1000 pounds alone, but if there are 10,000 out of the 50,000 MSU students, that weight would be as light as a feather. And we could we could get things so far.” 

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