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Democratic candidate credits students for "shaming" gun control opponents

A young kid smiling, speaking with a politician in a suit
Tyler Scott
16-year-old Nash Salami (right) helped organize Saturday's town hall after contacting Haley Stevens' campaign. Salami speaks with State Rep. Tim Greimel (left) after the town hall forum.

Democratic candidates for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District were cheered at a crowded town hall at a Library in Novi on Saturday for embracing gun control reform measures as a part of their campaign.

There were several of the so-called “Town Hall for Our Lives” events in Michigan, and dozens around the nation this weekend, continuing the heightened calls for gun control measures in the wake of February’s Parkland, Florida school shooting.

"The leaders of this movement are students, are kids. They're fighting back where our elected officials have failed," said Democratic candidate Dan Haberman. "The technique they're using is brilliant.... [Students] are shaming these folks who for so long haven't done the easy and right thing to do."

Five politicians sitting at tables with name plates.
Credit Tyler Scott
The candidates who attended Saturday's gun control town hall at the Novi Central Public Library

Five Democratic candidates were in attendance, most supported measures like universal background checks on gun purchases, so-called red flag legislation, and banning bump stocks. Increasing funding for researching gun violence and mental health services was also mentioned several times.

“We can protect the Second Amendment, and also pass common sense gun legislation, that is possible,” said Democratic candidate Suneel Gupta. “I believe 90% of Americans and the majority of people in this district feel that way.”

Sixteen-year-old Nash Salami says he helped organize the town hall after getting in touch with Democratic candidate Haley Stevens’ campaign. He said he started getting interested in politics around the 2008 Presidential election, when he was six years old.

“Just seeing the commercials for the different people running, I made sure that my grandparents and parents went and voted. The 2016 election is when I really got involved.”

Salami said Republican and third-party candidates for the congressional seat were all invited to attend, as well as sitting U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, Birmingham but none did.

“It was a little sad … like with the GOP and third party candidates, they’re vying to represent our voices, and they don’t really want to listen,” Nash said.

Trott announced in September 2017 that he is not seeking re-election this fall. A phone call Saturday to 11th District Republican candidate Lena Epstein’s campaign was not answered or immediately returned.

A room full of people sitting down.
Credit Tyler Scott
An attentive crowd packed the library conference room full. There was mostly broad support for candidates' views on gun control. Though, there was a sometimes vocal contingent of people sympathetic to gun rights and the NRA.

Democratic candidate and current sitting state Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said he talks with Republican legislators who don’t agree with the NRA’s positions, but vote with the NRA, “because they’re scared about their re-election.”

Greimel and other candidates echoed beliefs the National Rifle Association’s financial support of Republican politicians is a major roadblock in the way of gun control reforms.

“Basic common sense, low-hanging fruit has not passed through most legislatures in the country or through the federal Congress because the NRA has a stranglehold on the legislative process.”

Towards the end of the town hall, a man who said he was a retired public school teacher approached the microphone and said people in suburban areas like Novi seem to only see, and get concerned about, mass shootings, when gun violence in cities like Detroit was a regular part, he said, of his old student’s lives.

Democratic candidate Fayrouz Saad agreed that the discussion about preventing gun violence often doesn’t consider or include how communities of color are affected.

“A thing I’m also tired [of] as an Arab-American in this country is that when a white man has a gun, he’s mentally ill, but when it’s a brown person, they’re a terrorist. And so we need to change the conversation.”

Stevens said that while gun control is needed to keep public areas safe, she said people of color are sometimes treated unequally by law enforcement and the justice system when it comes to owning and carrying firearms.

“No one is trying to take all the guns away, we are trying to keep our public schools, our churches, our concert venues safe,” Stevens said. “We also absolutely, as a country, need to have a conversation around institutionalized racism and persecuted groups of our community who are maybe misunderstood.”

Haberman said when he was living in the Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit as a child, he once, as a middle-school student, had a gun “pulled on” him, and he didn’t even think to tell his parents.  

“That was life. My buddy Stanley got killed for his Filas… that’s just how I grew up. And it can be frustrating to see the focus is only on one aspect of the gun violence problem,” Haberman said. “We’ve got to do our best to combat the problem everywhere and make sure we’re putting into office authentic people who are going about this for the right reasons.”

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