State Senator David Knezek, a 29-year-old Democrat from Dearborn, has the kind of background most young politicians would envy. His dad was a cop; his mother, a school lunch lady. He got out of high school, walked into a U.S. Marine recruiting station, and ended up doing two tours of duty in Iraq, with a sniper platoon.
He was promoted to sergeant.
He got out of the service, and promptly earned a degree in political science at the U of M Dearborn. A month before he got his degree, he was elected to the state house of representatives. Two years later, in 2014, he was elected by a landslide to the state senate.
Today, he’s still two months from his 30th birthday. But he is no longer thrilled with the way things are going. Last week, when the legislature rammed through a package that is more likely to destroy the Detroit Public School system than save it, he told Michigan Radio’s Cynthia Canty,
“I have never been as ashamed to be a legislator as I am today.”
Then, Sunday, after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, Knezek posted a long and agonizing cry on Facebook. He said he was deeply shaken by the Orlando massacre. “I carried a gun for years in the military. I had extensive training in how and when to use it. I believe that I am a responsible gun owner because the Marine Corps properly trained me to be one.”
But in Michigan, he said, people can be certified after just a few hours training –
“or they pay the right person off and they get the certification without ever having attended the class.” “I don’t know what the answer is to gun violence in this country,” he says, before revealing that of course he does know: Enacting laws that, “if they can’t stop EVERY gun death … might stop SOME gun deaths.”
As he notes, “This morning’s (alleged) shooter obtained his gun legally despite being the subject of two FBI investigations. Think about that for a moment. Why, after such convincing evidence to the contrary, would we ever allow someone like that to obtain a gun legally?”
He knows that too many of us are resigned to thinking that no massacre, no matter how horrific, will ever break the power of the National Rifle Association, which for years has successfully prevented any meaningful law to protect citizens from gun violence from being enacted. Yet this young Marine refuses to give up.
“Surely, level heads can come together and find some sort of solution,” Knezek wrote. “Surely some progress can be made. Surely?”
Or maybe not. As he wrote, “Politicians, people like me, will do one of two things now: Offer up prayers and do absolutely nothing in response, or renew their attacks on the entire Muslim community for the actions of a few. Both are irresponsible and dangerous paths to continue down.” Yet we’ve been on these paths for years.
An old politician told me last week that in his time, men in college dorms talked mostly about women and politics. Now, he said, they don’t talk much about politics, because they no longer think anybody can change anything.
That just might be the scariest news of all.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.