Michigan Episcopal leaders participate in gun violence prevention summit

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jan 30, 2024

Michigan Bishop Bonnie Perry moderated a “Faith Leadership for Gun Violence Prevention” panel session at a virtual gun violence prevention summit on Jan. 30, 2024. During the Jan. 29-30 summit, Michigan legislators, gun-safety experts and faith leaders discussed the state’s three new gun safety laws, which will go into effect on Feb. 13. Photo: Screenshot

[Episcopal News Service] Leaders from the Diocese of Michigan joined state legislators and gun-safety experts in a gun violence prevention summit Jan. 29-30 in Detroit to discuss the state’s three new gun safety laws, which will go into effect in February.

Michigan Bishop Bonnie Perry and Vicki Schroeder, a social justice advocate and parishioner at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Saugatuck, Diocese of Western Michigan, both were instrumental in launching End Gun Violence Michigan, a grassroots group credited with helping the gun safety laws pass. Perry — who is also a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of more than 100 Episcopal bishops working to curtail gun violence — co-led a Jan. 30 panel titled “Faith Leadership for Gun Violence Prevention,” with the Very Rev. Chris Yaw, rector of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Southfield, and other local faith leaders. Perry also moderated a panel welcoming Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist at the summit’s opening session a day earlier. 

“[End Gun Violence Michigan] is a multifaceted movement with a variety of groups that were doing good work before, but doing amazing work now that we’re working together,” Perry told Episcopal News Service on Jan. 30. “Advocating for gun safety is a way of respecting the dignity of every human being.”

About 1,100 people registered for the virtual summit, according to Perry and organizers from End Gun Violence Michigan, which co-sponsored the summit with the University of Michigan Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action and other gun safety advocacy organizations.

The summit’s panel discussions included experts addressing how teachers, law enforcement, health care professionals, community organizers and activists can implement Michigan’s new gun safety laws, which were signed in 2023. Panelists also discussed the new gun safety laws in the contexts of youth advocacy, suicide prevention, community violence intervention and community activism. Speakers and panelists included U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and others.

One of the new laws includes requiring universal background checks for gun purchase. The same law also requires that guns be locked in storage. Michigan also established a red flag law — also known as an extreme risk law or temporary transfer law — which gives law enforcement agencies the authority to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who “could be dangerous.” Currently, 21 states have implemented some sort of red flag law.

Additionally, anyone convicted of domestic violence is no longer allowed access to firearms for eight years after finishing their sentence.

“This sensible legislation is not about gun control, but about the people of Michigan making clear that we all want to be safer,” Perry said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the gun safety measures into law in response to two mass shootings that have occurred in schools since she became governor in 2019, one in 2023 at Michigan State University in East Lansing and another in 2021 at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, north of Detroit. All three new laws will go into effect on Feb. 13, the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Michigan State.

“These aren’t Democratic values, and these aren’t Republican values. I think these are gospel values,” Perry said. “These are pragmatic policies for safer gun ownership and preventing avoidable deaths.”

The summit took place while Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of the Oxford High School shooter, is standing trial for her alleged role in the shooting. She and her husband, James Crumbley, have pleaded not guilty to four charges of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, both parents face up to 15 years in prison. James Crumbley’s trial is scheduled for March.

“As people of faith who have seen how God has worked to bring about justice through the meager things that we offer, we need to serve as a real inspiration and a reminder to reclaim the truth of the message of justice,” Yaw said during the “Faith Leadership for Gun Violence Prevention” panel session. “With gun violence and gun safety, we need to pave a way to reclaim justice with peace.”

On average, 1,187 Michiganders die annually from gun violence, according to data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Jan. 30, nationwide 3,253 people have died from gun violence this year, including 32 from mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an American nonprofit that catalogs every gun-related death in the United States. A mass shooting is any shooting in which at least four people are shot. Still, most U.S. gun deaths are suicides.

“Every single death from a gun is avoidable; this is a uniquely American way to die,” Perry said. 

Episcopalians can learn more about the church’s gun safety legislation dating to 1976 here.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.