Michigan Episcopal leaders rally support for common-sense gun legislation as hearings begin

Posted Mar 1, 2023

[Diocese of Michigan] Episcopal leaders from across Michigan on March 1 called for passage of common-sense gun laws as lawmakers in the capital city of Lansing kicked off the first of two days of hearings to address a rising tide of gun violence.

“Gun violence is now the number one cause of death for our children,” said the Rt. Rev. Bonnie Perry, bishop of the Diocese of Michigan. “After so many years of waiting and begging and sharing stories, we are finally going to have hearings on gun violence bills that will save lives.”

Michigan Bishop Bonnie Perry spoke against gun violence during a March 1 news conference organized by End Gun Violence Michigan in Lansing, the state capital. Photo: End Gun Violence Michigan

Perry’s diocese, which spans southeastern Michigan, has been the site of two deadly school shootings in the last 15 months. On Nov. 30, 2021, four students were killed and six students and a teacher were wounded by a student at Oxford High School, located about 30 miles north of Detroit. This year, on Feb. 13, three Michigan State University students were killed and five others wounded by a gunman who entered two buildings on the East Lansing campus and opened fire.

“We are so tired and we are so angry,” Carl Austin Miller Grondin, MSU’s student body vice president, said at a March 1 news conference in Lansing. “As students we need to be heard. We have grown up in this violence, and this should not be our reality.”

The MSU shooting occurred just four miles from the Michigan State Capitol and injected fresh urgency into an issue that state Democrats had vowed to address after previously being blocked by a Republican-controlled Legislature for decades. Democrats took control of both state houses last November for the first time in nearly 40 years. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat re-elected by a wide margin last fall, has made passing gun safety laws a central theme of her second term.

A total of four bill packages have been introduced by Michigan House and Senate Democrats. They fall into three main categories: requiring universal background checks to close the private sale loophole; creating secure storage laws to keep legal firearms out of the hands of children and teens; and establishing extreme risk protection orders, also known as “red flag laws,” which allow the courts to temporarily remove firearms from those deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others.

Carl Austin Miller Grondin, Michigan State University student body vice president, joined interfaith leaders calling for an end to gun violence. Three students were shot and killed on the MSU campus on Feb. 13, 2023. Photo: End Gun Violence Michigan

Prior to the hearings that began in the Michigan House, Perry joined the Rt. Rev. Prince Singh, provisional bishop for the Dioceses of Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, and an interfaith leadership group in private meetings with individual Michigan legislators.

“While we pray for our leaders, we want them to act,” Singh said. “And I hope they heard more than our voices, because in fact we represent a good portion of the state.”

The Episcopal Church has long advocated for gun-safety measures in response to the increase in gun-related violence in the United States. General Convention has passed resolutions aimed at reducing gun violence dating at least to 1976, and churchwide efforts in recent years have been led by the Bishops United Against Gun Violence network,

Perry and Singh have been joined in such advocacy by Northern Michigan Bishop Rayford Ray. Perry is a convener of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, and Singh and Ray are members.

The Rev. Barry Randolph of Episcopal Church of the Messiah, on Detroit’s east side, told the news conference on March 1 about two men from Detroit, DaMarkkus Washington and Charles Reid, who both died in incidents of gun violence.

All deaths by guns are a call to action, Randolph said. “School shootings, street crime, suicide, hate crimes — they’re all connected. The common denominator is easy access to firearms,” he said. “If the children in my neighborhood are not safe, then your children will not be safe. Our zip codes are not fortresses. This can happen anywhere.”

Michigan’s Episcopal church leaders have been at the forefront of the latest push to address gun violence, launching the advocacy group End Gun Violence in February 2022 after the Oxford shooting.

Gun deaths are now the leading killer of young people, surpassing motor vehicle accidents. A person is killed with a gun every eight hours in Michigan, and every two hours a person is injured in a non-fatal incident involving a gun, according to a study of the impact of gun violence in the state by the Center for American Progress.