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Lawmakers promise action at rally, ceremony to honor MSU victims

Michigan State Shooting
Paul Sancya/AP
Current and former Michigan State University students rally at the capitol in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. Alexandria Verner, Brian Fraser and Arielle Anderson were killed and five other students remain remain in critical condition after a gunman opened fire on the campus of Michigan State University Monday night. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Hundreds of people rallied for tougher gun laws Wednesday at the Michigan Capitol as lawmakers gathered to formally honor the victims and survivors of the fatal shootings at Michigan State University.

MSU students were among the dozens of speakers who shared their anger at Monday’s violence that left three students dead and five others hospitalized.

“We’re tired. We’re so tired … I’ve slept four hours the past two days,” said rally organizer and MSU student Maya Manuel.

She said it’s frustrating that her generation has endured mass violence as a regular occurrence.

“I hope it doesn’t get swept away like it has with Oxford and other schools that are being threatened in Michigan or have been threatened in Michigan or surrounding states and cities,” she said. “Just the whole country honestly.”

The state House convened the same day for a special session to honor the victims and the emergency responders who rushed to the East Lansing campus.

Uniformed police officers and rescue workers from East Lansing, Lansing and surrounding communities joined students who filled the House gallery.

Representative Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) said the purpose was not only to honor the victims and first responders but also to make a promise:

“To take action! So it won’t happen again!” she said to applause from the gallery. “We can and we will end gun violence in Michigan!”

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Liviona) echoed the call for action.

“Talk to the MSU survivors surrounding us in the gallery and ask them what they want in this moment,” she said. “They don’t want our condolences. They do not want our thoughts and prayers. They want us to take action.”

House Democratic leaders said bills are still being finalized. But they said the legislation will almost certainly include universal background checks, red-flag rules that would allow guns to be taken from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others, and a requirement that guns be locked up when not in use. Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she is ready to sign the bills.

Similar legislation never gained traction during the years of Republican control of the state Legislature. GOP lawmakers now are arguing that many existing laws aren’t well enforced.

“You have individuals who have illegal firearms or firearms they sort of laundered through the market and it’s impossible to stop a really bad person from doing really bad things,” said Rep. Graham Filler, the senior Republican on the House Criminal Justice Committee. “You can put up barriers and do your best, but really bad people do really bad illegal things.”

Despite being the minority party, Republicans will have some ability to influence gun legislation. The Democrats’ majorities are very slim 56-54 in the House and and 20-18 in the Senate.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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