School Shootings in Michigan

What We CAN Do in the Wake of Gun Violence

By Maria C. Bailey, Washtenaw County MI volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

(In this article, “gun violence” is defined as any act of violence that involves a firearm, including homicide, suicide, and unintentional shooting.)

Once again, we are faced with a turbulence of emotions and unanswered questions after a school shooting—this time, in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting in our own state. We are inundated by bits of information from our social media feeds and the snippets of radio news we hear as we get our kids ready for school. It can all start to feel … hopeless. I get this—I’m a local mom to school-age children and often feel deeply when I hear about violence around the world and in my own community, and wonder “What can I do to help this seemingly hopeless cause?!”

What I have in these moments of helplessness is a support system of like-minded folks I’ve been volunteering with for more than six years—Moms Demand Action. When my mind and heart turn towards despair I listen to those who have experienced gun violence and learn how to harness that experience and strength to create real change and prevent this from happening again. 

I also try to take care of myself. “Self-care” is something every aware and active changemaker practices. When we aren’t feeling secure and safe, we can’t offer strength to others. As Celeste Kanpurwala, a Moms Demand Action volunteer, who leads our local Washtenaw County group and author of “Bold Brave Goddess” recently wrote, “Always listen to your inner voice—it will tell you exactly what you need. If you ignore it for too long, you will burn out. Don’t let that happen because we need you.”

Gun violence in Michigan

Gun violence touches every community in this country. Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, gun sales surged 64%, and the number of unintentional shootings of young children increased 31% (from March to December 2020). 

Firearms are the second-leading cause of death among children and teens in Michigan. 

In an average year in our state, 1,212 people die and 3,507 people are wounded by guns and 90 children die from gun violence. At least 30% of Michigan households have at least one gun. (For more information on Michigan-specific gun laws, and to compare our state’s laws to others’, check out the Gun Law Navigator.)

Examples of common-sense gun laws that would help prevent all types of gun violence include: 

  • Background checks on all gun sales
  • Extreme Risk laws that provide a process to temporarily remove guns from people showing warning signs
  • Keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers
  • Ensuring that firearms are stored securely to prevent access by children or other unauthorized users

These are included in the fifty gun sense bills that have been introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives in 2021 that have been sitting, waiting for leadership to bring them up for a hearing. 

Right now, Michigan lawmakers have a chance to strengthen public safety by passing bills that would help keep women and families safe from gun violence and reduce shootings and gun suicides.

QUICK ACTION: Reach out to your state representative, your state senator, and to House and Senate leadership and demand these bills be brought to the table for a vote! (Not sure who your legislators are? Check out Find My State Rep and Find My State Sen.)

How can we help keep our kids safe? 

We believe that by being proactive and taking preventative measures we help keep our children safe from gun violence. 

As Jonathan Gold, President of Giffords Gun Owners for Safety and Michigan Moms Demand Action volunteer, recently stated, “Gun negligence leads to unintentional casualties. Responsible gun owners do everything they can to keep their weapons from falling into the wrong hands.” 

Children cannot be relied upon to exercise caution around guns. It is upon us, the adults, to make sure that guns are stored securely and used safely.

The Be SMART for Kids program is designed to help normalize conversations about gun safety and take responsible actions that can prevent child gun deaths and injuries, and stands for: 

Secure all guns in your home and vehicles

Model responsible behavior around guns

Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in other homes

Recognize the role of guns in suicide

Tell your peers to be SMART

The Be SMART program is presented to groups of adults for free as a public education service via Moms Demand Action local groups.

Another great resource is University of Michigan’s Injury Center’s Violence Prevention program. Teams of scientists and medical professionals are conducting groundbreaking research to examine the whys and hows of gun violence—the results of which are an important tool in the gun violence prevention movement. Check out their site to learn more and to find helpful resources (including the “Family Guide to Home Firearm Safety During COVID-19”).

QUICK ACTION: Ask about the presence and secure storage of guns in homes where our children will be (e.g., playdates and holiday visits). This can be done in a text conversation, just as how we ask about food allergies, pets, or pool safety.

Gun violence in schools

We definitely hear more about mass shootings, such as school shootings, than we do about domestic violence involving firearms, suicides, and shootings that occur every day in Michigan and throughout the country. 

For the last 20 years, students, educators, and parents have continued to endure devastating school gun violence. This does not have to be. We can foster safe, supportive schools—free from gun violence—by addressing the factors that lead to violent incidents and implementing proven strategies that contribute to a healthy school climate. 

Policymakers can help prevent gun violence in schools by implementing proactive, evidence-based interventions to prevent gun violence before it happens. (To learn more about research-backed approaches that can help create safer schools and end gun violence, check out the fact sheet  How Can We Prevent Gun Violence in American Schools?.)

Don’t forget that talking to our kids at home is imperative. As a parent, and as a gun violence prevention activist, I look to the experts to learn what to say and how to say it. The National Association of School Psychologists’ guide on how to talk to children about violence has been very helpful for my family.

QUICK ACTION: Contact your school, PTO, school board, and superintendent about the importance of gun safety education and instilling preventative measures to help keep kids safe, such as the Be SMART program. Contact momswashtenaw@gmail.com to get sample templates and more information.

How you can help end gun violence 

Whether you have 5 minutes or 5 hours, you can be a part of the gun violence prevention movement. In addition to the QUICK ACTION items noted above, here are great ways to become a changemaker (excerpted from Bold Brave Goddess, 12/1/21). 

I hope to see you on the front lines soon.

  1. Become more politically active. Ask your elected leaders how you can help THEM do their jobs. You might be surprised to know that we can actually educate our elected officials on things that are important to us.
  2. Attend community meetings where decisions are being made and community leaders are present. Talk about why gun violence prevention is important to you and your family.
  3. Talk to your school leaders. Make it clear that gun safety MUST be a priority.
  4. Ask adults in other households if they have guns present, and if so, if they are stored securely. Don’t be afraid to have these conversations.
  5. Support community- and hospital-based violence intervention programs. 
  6. DON’T support organizations, companies, and stores that don’t recognize gun safety and especially those who negligently flout gun extremism.
  7. Check out Moms Demand Action and other violence prevention organizations. Support the one that’s right for you. 
  8. Lift up the voices of the students who are making a difference in this movement.
  9. Take care of yourself.

Many thanks to Michigan Moms Demand Action volunteers for their words and continued action. 

For more information about the organization, visit momsdemandaction.org

Ready to take action? Text READY to 644-33. To learn more about what you can do locally, find Moms Demand Action – Washtenaw County on facebook, or contact us at momswashtenaw@gmail.com.