LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords joined advocates and lawmakers for a rally at the Michigan Capitol Wednesday to demand action on gun safety.
The rally was in support of an 11-bill gun safety package moving through the Michigan Legislature. Speakers at the rally included Giffords, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Lansing, and Michigan Senate Leader Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids.
It came more than one month after the Feb. 13 deadly shooting on Michigan State University’s campus. Three students were killed in the shooting: Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner. Five other students were injured.
“Our lives can change so quickly. Mine did when I was shot,” Giffords said.
Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 and has since become a strong advocate for gun safety laws, told the crowd to never give up hope.
“We are up for the challenge. My own recovery has taken years. Many, many people have helped me along the way and I’ve learned so much. I learned when people care for each other and work together, progress is possible. The world is possible. But change does not happen overnight. I can’t do it alone. Join me, let’s move ahead together, amen!” Giffords said.
Whitmer was one of the first to speak at the event.
“The good news is we do not have to live like this and we will not live like this anymore,” said Whitmer. “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, in their place of education, in their neighborhood, in their workplace, in their community. That is a freedom we must fight for.”
Brinks — whose chamber has yet to vote on a universal background check bill passed by the House — expressed her anger, especially at the Republicans who had run the state Legislature for decades before Democrats won the majority in both chambers in November.
“I have had enough. I’ve really, really had enough of the leaders who had this job before me, yet refused to take action to protect our kids. For too long, the people who had my job leading this legislature were not willing to do anything about gun violence,” Brinks said.
She promised that Democrats would pass the 11-bill gun safety package and get it to Whitmer’s desk. Whitmer has said she would sign the bills.
“I also know that one bill, or even 11 bills is not going to be the entire solution. While the opposition will use that as an excuse to do nothing, we are using that as fuel to start taking steps right now. We know that if these bills prevent one tragic situation or save one life it will be worth it,” Brinks said.
“With freedom comes responsibility, just as it does with freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, said.
“I’m so sick of thoughts and prayers. I’ll never say them again,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor.
Slotkin said she grew up with guns and served in Iraq where she carried guns.
Referencing a group of protesters at the event, she said, “(Michigan is) going to be a place that demonstrates that what’s happening over there is the death knell of a movement that has no care and consideration for our children. And we are going to tell the world that as a state where many of us grow up hunting … we can protect our children and our Second Amendment rights, there’s no damn hypocrisy there.”
MSU STUDENT: ‘NO LONGER ASKING’
Two mass shooting survivors, one from Oxford High School, the other from Michigan State University, took the stage with direct messages to lawmakers in Lansing and Washington.
“I am no longer asking, I am demanding a safer future for myself, my three younger brothers, my classmates and my community. Legislation has continuously failed us since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Here we are still fighting for the same battle almost 24 years later,” MSU sophomore Joseph Kesto said.
“We are your current and future voters. And you sure as hell will lose your spot in office if you keep showing us that our lives mean nothing to you,” Oxford shooting survivor Maddie Johnson said.
MSU student Madeline Tocco with the MSU Council of Students with Disabilities said told News 8 she hid in Phillips Hall with a friend during the shooting.
“They have a connective tissue issue. So I was afraid, for the majority of it, that they would dislocate something while hiding behind some plastic drawers and under a desk,” Tocco said.
She said she knows change is possible in Lansing to help prevent the next one.
“This state, I have full faith in. This is not Michigan. This is ‘Michi-can.’ We can do this. We can protect our fellow man,” Tocco said.
One woman who attended the event told News 8 gun violence has affected her life twice.
“I was actually here at the Capitol rally two days after the MSU shooting. My eldest son gave me some of his valentines to give to the students that day, because he said that they needed them more than he did,” Celeste Kanpurwala, the Michigan chapter lead for Moms in Action, said.
Kanpurwala’s two sons grew up without knowing their grandfather, who died by suicide with his shotgun after dealing with depression.
“That’s why it’s so important that we get red flag laws in place, so that people who are exhibiting symptoms of harming themselves or others — we can have those firearms safely removed from them,” she said.
PROTESTERS: ‘I PLEAD THE SECOND’
A group of protesters tried to talk over speakers with bullhorns and sirens. They held signs that read, “I plead the Second.”
Some said part of the problem lies with current laws not being enforced.
“You want to talk about gun-free zones in colleges? You want to talk about prosecutors that don’t prosecute to the fullest extent of the law? Democrat policies are what has caused the violence that we have in this state,” State Rep. Angela Rigas, R-Caledonia, said.
Rigas said the second amendment is non-negotiable, further arguing that constitutional carry is a must in Michigan.
“They’ve chosen not to have healthy debate on the floor. They have gaveled us down and refused to turn on our microphones. This is not good governance,” Rigas said.
— News 8’s Madalyn Buursma contributed to this report.