Winnie Brinks may be the new state Senate Majority Leader from Grand Rapids, but on Feb. 13 she was another of so many parents “sick with dread” while texting a son or daughter locked down on campus at Michigan State University amid an active shooting.
Sen. Brinks was among the Democratic leaders, MEA President Paula Herbart, and other advocates – including students from Oxford and MSU – who joined former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords for a rally on the Capitol steps to support gun safety legislation moving through the Michigan Legislature.
“Let me tell you, I am right there with you and I am mad,” Brinks told the crowd assembled for the 11 a.m. Wednesday event. “I have had enough. I’ve really, really had enough of the leaders who had this job before me yet refused to take action to protect our kids.”
On Thursday the Senate approved the 11-bill package to require universal background checks for gun sales, mandate safe storage of firearms, and prevent people from buying or possessing guns who pose a threat to self or others.
You can help get this package of gun safety legislation over the finish line in Lansing—use this form to contact your state representative today.
Democrats who now control the House and Senate recognize “this is some of the most important work that we will do in our time serving in this Legislature,” Brinks said. “And my pledge to you is that we are going to get these bills done.”
State House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) also took to the podium at Wednesday’s rally with a pledge to pass the bills in the next few weeks. “Americans are 25 times more likely to die from gun violence than people in other industrialized countries, but states that have passed stronger gun laws have seen significant reductions in gun deaths and gun violence,” Tate said. “We know that Michiganders overwhelmingly support these policies.”
A small band of counter protesters tried to drown out speakers’ voices by shouting with a bullhorn and other amplified noise. But MEA President Paula Herbart got the crowd cheering when she announced none of that could deter a former middle school teacher.
“You make a plan, you stick to a plan, and you ignore the noise,” she said, adding it’s long past time to act in the name of children gunned down at school and their families and communities that have been torn apart. “We elected the people who are going to do the job.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agreed that lawmakers will not be distracted by noise – not after living through “the very heaviest and hardest” days following school shootings at Oxford High School and MSU. “The good news is we do not have to live like this, and we will not live like this anymore.”
Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who said she became the first representative in Congress to represent an area hit by two school shootings. After the deadly shooting at Oxford High School in November 2021, she experienced deep sadness and the “inability to control emotion” going from vigils to funerals and memorials, she said.
“But when Michigan State University happened, I skipped past that initial part and went straight to fury,” Slotkin said. “And I am still so angry, because when people say they care about children and then refuse to take action on gun violence legislation, it’s B.S.”
Slotkin said a tipping point in public opinion has occurred as children continue to die and more and more people – including responsible gun owners – ask lawmakers to pass commonsense gun laws.
“We know from polling, but also from our communities, that this is a changed moment; so while these people—“ she said, waving toward the small but loud band of counter protesters—“have their First Amendment right to do whatever they want to do, they represent a deep minority of people.”
The rally concluded with a short speech by Giffords, who represented Arizona’s 8th congressional district when she was shot in the head during a 2011 constituent event and suffered severe brain damage. The shooter killed six people and injured 13 others.
Giffords resigned from Congress to focus on recovery, eventually regaining some ability to walk and talk. She later formed an organization – Giffords – to stop gun violence.
Lives can change so quickly, she said. “Mine did when I was shot, but I never gave up hope. I chose to make a new start. To move ahead, to not look back. I’m really learning so many things; how to walk, how to talk and how to make the country safe.”
In her long fight to pass gun laws that can help to protect lives, she has learned even more, she added. “When people care for each other, and work together, progress is possible. The world is possible. But change doesn’t happen overnight. I can’t do it alone. Join me. Let’s move ahead together. Amen.”
Stay tuned to mea.org/gunsafety for the latest information, and join us for another rally on Thursday, March 23 — the last session day before the Legislature’s spring break — when March For Our Lives will hold a rally at the State Capitol starting at 4:30 p.m.
This marks the fifth anniversary since the first rallies by this organization founded after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. For more information, RSVP now for the 23rd.