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Hundreds rally for gun reform in Michigan, including Gabby Giffords

people holding signs
Supporters of stricter gun laws gathered at the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday the same week that Democrats who now control the Legislature may move a handful of bills. (Bridge photo by Yue Stella Yu)
  • Michigan Democrats vow actions to pass stricter gun laws
  • Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, survivor of critical gun injury, stumps for reform
  • Some counties are already passing resolution refusing to enforce such laws

March 16: Michigan Senate OKs sweeping gun control reforms after MSU shooting

LANSING — Karla Aren says she traveled to Lansing on Wednesday to protest against gun violence and show her 19-year-old daughter that change is possible.

Aren, 52, a Detroit-area mother of two college students including a 22-year-old Michigan State University senior, said her daughter felt hopeless after a Feb. 13 shooting at MSU killed three students and wounded five others. 

“(She) feels like nothing happened after Oxford and Parkland and all of that, nothing happened. Why would it happen now?” Aren said, referring to mass shootings at high schools in Oakland County and Florida.


“I want to show her and show any other young students who are struggling that our generation can do something,” she added. “People need to use their voices and make sure that they get laws that represent them.”

Aren was one of hundreds at the Capitol on Wednesday pressing for gun reform during a protest that included speeches by Democrats including U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell of Ann Arbor and Elissa Slotkin of Holly, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, House Speaker Joe Tate of Detroit and Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids.

The hour-long “Let’s Get It Done” rally comes as the new Democratic legislative majority is aggressively pushing for stricter gun laws.

Democrats want to require universal background checks, implement safe storage requirements for gun owners and establish so-called “red flag” laws to allow law enforcement and families to petition judges to temporarily take guns away from those deemed a risk.

Gabby Giffords, former U.S. representative from Arizona, attended the rally as well on Wednesday. She was shot in the head at point-blank range in 2011.

“Progress is possible,” she told the crowd. 

“Change doesn’t happen overnight. I can’t do it alone. Join me, let’s move ahead together.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords talking to crowd with people behind her
Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, spoke in support of stricter gun laws at a Wednesday rally at the Michigan State Capitol. (Bridge photo by Yue Stella Yu)

Guns are the leading weapon used in both suicides and homicides in Michigan, according to data from the state. Although there’s no official data on the number of guns in Michigan, a 2020 RAND Corp. survey found an average of 40.2 percent of Michigan adults said they had at least one gun between 1982 and 2016.

The Michigan House, where Democrats have a two-seat majority, passed the universal background check bills last week. Safe storage requirements and red flag legislation also cleared Senate committees and could be brought to a Senate floor vote as soon as this week.

Republicans oppose the bills, but have voted in favor of tax incentives for safety devices. House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, has called the gun legislation “divisive,” and GOP lawmakers have warned Democrats in competitive districts that supporting the bills could jeopardize their re-election chances.

During the rally, dozens of gun advocates protested the proposed reforms.

Some held “I plead the Second” signs in reference to the Second Amendment, while one blasted police sirens in an effort to drown out speakers and another wore a mask resembling former President Donald Trump. 

Peter Langlois, 66, who identified himself as a conservative gun owner, attended the counter-protest. He said the gun proposals are part of a Democratic plan that’s “incrementally taking our rights away.” 

Some conservative counties are preemptively moving in an attempt to block any changes. In Cass County, local commissioners passed a resolution to ban enforcement of proposed laws.

people holding pro gun rights signs
Karla Aren (left) holds up green signs that say: “Wife of Teacher” and “Mom of MSU Student” at the Wednesday rally for gun reform. She stood next to a small group of protesters, who held up “I PLEAD THE SECOND” signs. (Bridge photo by Yue Stella Yu)

The pro-gun protesters were dwarfed by supporters of gun reforms. Whitmer told the crowd that gun violence is a “uniquely American problem” known too well in Michigan.

“The days after those (school) shootings were without question the very heaviest and the hardest,”  Whitmer said. “Because what can you say to a parent who’s lost a child to gun violence? What can you say to young people who are terrorized and terrified just to go to school?”

Madeline Johnson, an Oxford High School shooting survivor and student activist for tightened gun laws, recalled watching her best friend, Madisyn Baldwin, turning the corner in the school and walking in the killer’s direction. 

“That was the last time I ever saw her alive,” Johnson said Wednesday.

Addressing elected officials who oppose gun reform, Johnson said she hopes they remember the names of all victims of the two school shootings.

“I want you to know that your ignorance has failed them and your selfishness has cost them their lives,” she said.

It’s unclear whether any of the proposed legislation would have prevented the Michigan State shooting. Police said the 43-year-old gunman purchased his handguns legally. His father has told Bridge Michigan that the son grew bitter and distant after his mother died.

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