A group of Michigan State University students recently formed a student organization to fight for gun safety and against gun violence. Each member is inspired by each of their unique personal connections to the issue.
Spartans Against Gun Violence is a newly created official chapter of March For Our Lives, or MFOL, a youth-led non-profit organization. Genomics and Molecular Genetics Co-Chair and Junior Zoe Haden launched the organization with second-year PR and co-chair Hailey Kenward.
For Haden, empathy is essential in the fight against gun violence. They are from Oxford and their sister was at Oxford High School the day of the shooting. After this tragedy, Haden was forced to get involved in advocacy.
“When this shooting happened, not only was it near my home, it was in my home, my family,” Haden said. “This fear that I felt when my sister texted me saying there was a shooter in the school, I don’t want anyone to feel that. I don’t think anyone should have to feel that. ”
Haden said raising awareness that this is happening all over the world can really help build more empathy for those affected and the families of the victims.
Kenward specifically advocates for a ban on assault weapons, as a member of the military.
“To see civilians with the same weapons that we carry, and for which we have weeks and months of training and have to recertify every year, to see civilians carrying this to schools and committing mass destruction is just a horrible thought” , Kenward said.
Lyman Briggs sophomore Joseph Kesto, who manages the organization’s social media, is also in favor of an assault weapons ban. Kesto was inspired to get more involved in gun violence prevention after the May school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. His brothers were around the same age as the victims, he said.
Additionally, the group advocates for improved mental health care and mental wellness awareness. Mass shootings are sometimes linked to mental illness — but that’s not the only type of gun violence the group focuses on.
“Nobody really talks about the magnitude of suicide rates with guns,” Haden said. “Mental health awareness and help is so important on both ends of the gun violence spectrum.”
Members have also pushed for safe storage laws, legislation that requires firearms to be stored, locked and unloaded when not in use.
It also includes holding parents accountable for careless gun storage, Kesto said. This summer, the parents of the Oxford High School shooter were charged with manslaughter after their son admitted in court that the gun he used to shoot was unsafe.
Haden said safe storage legislation can create positive change even for those who want to protect their gun ownership.
“I feel like some people are like, ‘Oh, they’re going to take all our guns away from us, we won’t be able to protect ourselves,’ but that’s really not that at all,” Kesto said. We just want basic things to stop school shootings and other mass shootings.
Haden said there are misconceptions about gun safety advocacy and that raising awareness is important to creating change.
“There is so much hatred and selfishness from people who really don’t understand and don’t know, and who care more about their guns than the people involved,” they said.
Kenward said the group values a grassroots approach to change, focusing on people they can reach directly.
“If we can’t reach senators and those in the House, then the least we can do is focus on the people we can impact, like local government officials, people in schools, students, faculty,” Kenward said.
The MFOL organization was created following the 2018 shooting at Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Several members of the MSU organization have ties to this organization.
Through MFOL, Haden helped the organization lobby for safe storage bills and mental health checks in high schools. Through events like these, they have become more involved with others who share the same goals.
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Kesto was a member of the Detroit chapter of MFOL. He was the main organizer of a fundraising event held at Detroit’s Hart Plaza that raised over $2,000 for the chapter. Kesto, Kenward and Haden each attended the original March For Our Lives march in Washington, which took place after the Parkland shooting.
“It was so inspiring to be a student in high school and see all these other high school kids on this platform, talking about something they were interested in,” Kenward said. “It really inspired me to get involved, because these are people our age who are trying to make a difference, to have their point of view and their voice heard.”
The group’s connection to MFOL gives them funding benefits and connections they wouldn’t otherwise have, Haden said.
As the only chapter in the Greater Lansing area, the group hopes to spread awareness of the organization in the area, Kenward said. In addition to organizing marches, the group plans to leverage its proximity to the Michigan Capitol and lobby for legislation that supports its goals.
Despite a grassroots approach, members of Spartans Against Gun Violence have had the opportunity to meet members of Congress through their work and relationships with MFOL. Members met with US Representative Elissa Slotkin and US Senator Chris Murphy. Kesto said he had the opportunity to speak with U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
Kesto stressed that everyone is welcome in Spartans Against Gun Violence and that the group is non-partisan.
“We just want people who are serious about preventing gun violence, you don’t have to be a Democrat, you don’t have to be a Republican,” he said.
Spartans Against Gun Violence meets every two weeks at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. The group does not yet have an official meeting place, but interested students can register at the link on the organization’s Instagram account.
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