Students gather at Capitol to demand gun law changes, mental health aid

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — From the steps of the state Capitol Wednesday, Zoe Touray relived moments from nearly three months earlier when she was locked in her classroom at Oxford High School hiding from a shooter who would take four lives that day. 

She remembered sitting in the classroom on Nov. 30 texting her mother that she loved her and, in the days that followed, mourning her former classmates and loved ones.

"We shouldn't have had to bury friends, classmates, girlfriends, boyfriends; no 15-year-old should have access to a gun and enter a school with one," said Touray, who wore a sweater with the names of the Oxford shooting victims: Tate Myre, Madisyn Baldwin, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Shilling.

Zoe Touray, a senior at Oxford High School, speaks at the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022 with March for Our Lives Michigan ahead of meetings with lawmakers to advocate for safe gun storage laws and increased funding for mental health services in schools.

She was among about 50 students and advocates with March for Our Lives Michigan lobbying lawmakers Wednesday for changes to state law to decrease gun violence in Michigan. 

Among the primary proposals the students supported were safe gun storage laws in homes where minors are present, introduced in the House and Senate in June, and increased funding for mental health resources in schools, as proposed in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's budget recommendation earlier this month.

Alyssa Donovan, a 2019 alumni of Oxford High School and a junior at the University of Michigan, said her community had "been shattered" and "everyone has seemingly moved on."

"I urge everyone listening, but especially our elected officials that have been chosen to represent the people, to unite together to push for this legislation to ensure our children have the mental health resources in their school that I know from experience they so desperately need," Donovan said. 

There's been a renewed push to pass safe gun storage laws in Michigan since the Oxford High School shooting in part because advocates argue the Oxford shooting may have been prevented if accused shooter Ethan Crumbley's parents faced tougher sanctions for failing to safely secure their firearms. 

Prosecutors have accused James and Jennifer Crumbley of buying the Sig Sauer Model SP 2022 9 mm semi-automatic handgun allegedly used in the Nov. 30 shooting for their 15-year-old son as a Christmas present. 

The parents' attorneys have argued the gun was hidden in a locked drawer in their bedroom ahead of the shooting.

Last week, Reina St. Juliana, a junior at Oxford High School and older sister of shooting victim Hana St. Juliana, voiced support for the legislation, which would require guns to be safely stored in a secure lockbox or locked with a locking device to prevent access by a minor. 

Speakers at the Capitol Wednesday also pushed for the change. 

"I am part of the post-Columbine generation, a generation where shootings are so normal, we practice for them," said Jayanti Gupta, an organizer for March for Our Lives and senior at International Academy East High School, who referred to the 1999 Denver area mass shooting.  

"Instead of teaching students how to survive a school shooting we should be doing everything we can to prevent them from happening," she said. 

Whitmer's budget recommendation includes about $361 million to open 40 school-based health clinics, increase access to mental health screenings and hire an additional 425 mental health professionals for schools. 

Whitmer on Wednesday supported the efforts of March For Our Lives Michigan and "those impacted by gun violence."

"I proposed unprecedented investments in mental health and school safety, and today I’m reiterating my support for safe firearm storage because one death is one too many," Whitmer said on Twitter. "I'll work with anyone to save lives."

The Republican-controlled Michigan House launched a bipartisan school safety task force earlier this year to focus on ways to improve school security as well as access to student mental health. 

Rep. Luke Meerman, the Coopersville Republican who co-chairs the task force, said they've had a dozen meetings so far and planned to meet again Wednesday. 

"We've got three pages of ideas and we're sorting through those now, No. 1, to see what we can all get around and, No. 2, how we're going to go accomplish it," he said. "My next focus is student mental health."

Earlier this month, several advocacy groups announced they were launching an "exploratory committee" to consider a 2024 ballot initiative that would impose firearm restrictions in Michigan if the GOP-led Legislature failed to act on needed reforms. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com