Home Featured News Editorial: West Michigan needs to take a stand against gun violence

Editorial: West Michigan needs to take a stand against gun violence

From left, Ella Huff, of Grand Rapids, joins fellow Michigan State University students Sophie Apple and her sister, Abbey Apple, both of Washington Township, as they place flowers at ‘The Rock,’ Tuesday morning, Feb. 14, 2023. (Todd McInturf/The Detroit News/TNS)

By Sophie Deiters

A stadium’s worth of college students gather but they’re not watching football. They’re at a candlelight vigil for their three classmates, murdered in cold blood, an experience that would permanently mark the campus and community around it. 

Michigan State University was a home for the three students shot to death on Feb. 13. Thousands listened through police scanners for the near four hours that the gunman was at large. Students barricaded themselves in their dorms, called their friends and family and prayed for the end. Eight people were shot before the gunman ended his own life.

The reality of this tragedy is that it happens all the time. In 2022, there were 647 mass shootings in the United States, a fact that doesn’t set in until it happens in your own community. It often sparks discourse on gun laws and mental health treatment accessibility but seemingly nothing ever changes. The gunman in this case was said to have been a paranoid schizophrenic with a prior concealed weapon charge, two red flags overlooked by the legal system.

The obvious questions after such a devastating incident are why does this happen and what can we do to prevent it? 

Michigan does not have red-flag laws which would allow the court to temporarily confiscate firearms if they perceive the owner to be a possible threat. In this instance, the gunman had obtained his firearms legally despite having committed a felony of concealed weapons carrying. The MSU shooter’s family also attested that the shooter had been spiraling with his depression and paranoid schizophrenia for years, which under red flag laws could have prevented him from legally owning a firearm.

Even though a majority of Americans support tighter gun control, passing any gun legislation is incredibly difficult partially due to the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA is an exceptionally powerful organization that has successfully been able to frame gun ownership as an inalienable human right. They have support from far-right news outlets like Fox News which consistently promotes the NRA and their narrative. Because of this influence, the NRA has notable sway over which political candidates people do and don’t like. The NRA also funds certain Republican’s campaigns which makes them wary of supporting gun restrictions.

Beyond the problem of legislation is the police system itself. Police are only able to stop or physically subdue an attacker in less than a third of attacks. The police are not able to prevent mass shootings because even when there’s a hundred officers in the vicinity, they’re still rarely able to stop the attacker in a short amount of time. It took officers nearly four hours to find the gunman at MSU, and when they did it was because he shot himself. Pushing more funding into police training does not solve these issues. That money would be better spent on mental health and community resources.

Mental health does play a major role in why people commit acts of violence. This is obviously the case in the MSU shooting. In the United States, millions of people cannot afford basic health care let alone therapy, a psychiatrist and the subsequent medication. Because of this and the lack of affordable resources, many people live their whole lives with unchecked mental disorders.

All of these issues and more make fixing the crisis of mass shootings an especially nuanced conversation. There is not one piece of legislation that would fix the problem, but that doesn’t mean we give up or don’t try. There ARE things we can do.

One of the obvious ways to fight against the violence is to vote. As important as national elections are, local elections should be understood as equally important. Voting for senate members and representatives in your district could have a direct impact on whether gun legislation gets passed, so it’s incredibly important to vote.

Another way you can contribute is by calling your elected officials and making your opinions known. Organizing protests or marching has a similar effect. Let your officials know that you’re serious about this and want change.

Because police rarely stop shootings, you should also support community-based crime prevention such as sufficient social workers in education and low-cost mental health clinics. Community distress is also linked to higher violence so communities should encourage and advocate for welfare policies like more affordable housing, healthcare and food.

And finally, educate yourself. Figure out what security measures your school or workplace has to prevent dangerous people from entering the building. Stay informed on what your state and federal laws are to regulate gun ownership. Knowledge is power and informed voters have the power to change everything.

The eight individuals shot at MSU are only a small fraction of the 321 Americans shot daily. The pain of these losses can be paralyzing, but the West Michigan community needs to stand strong against this injustice before we lose more lives. You can donate or volunteer to a number of credible organizations including Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, Everytown and Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.


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