Rep. Haley Stevens' town hall on curbing gun violence turns contentious

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Commerce Township —  A large crowd turned out for a contentious town hall on curbing gun violence Tuesday led by Democratic U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and two Michigan lawmakers. 

The hour-long, Q&A-style event at the Multi-Lakes Conservation Association was hosted with Fems for Dems, a grassroots group, and aimed to cover topics such as safe firearm storage, protecting victims of domestic violence and preventing attacks, organizers said.

But Stevens, Michigan House Democratic Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills and Democratic State Rep. Robert Wittenberg of Huntington Woods were often drowned out and interrupted by protesters at the gun club, some of whom repeatedly shouted "NRA" in reference to the National Rifle Association.

U.S. Rep Haley Stevens

At one point, Stevens responded: “This is why the NRA has got to go.” 

At one point, Greig compared the rancor to wider partisan divides she said hindered addressing pressing problems.

"What are we teaching our children when we cannot have a responsible, dignified discussion about these very important issues?" she said to applause. "We’ve got so many issues and challenges in our state. ...Why are we yelling at each other instead of solving problems together?"

An estimated 200 people filled the conservation association building, which is situated on club grounds that include pistol, rifle and shotgun ranges. Some carried signs with messages such as "Vote out Haley Stevens — a liar."

Earlier Tuesday, Meshawn Maddock, chair of the 11th Congressional District Republican Committee, had issued a statement saying many people would oppose Stevens and "holding a town hall to protest our Second Amendment in this District is a mistake.”

“The 11th Congressional District isn’t progressive,” Maddock said. “It’s Republican. And Republicans support the Second Amendment and we like our legally owned guns. You’ve got a lot of nerve holding an anti-gun rally in the heart of gun-country. So we will rally voters to show you what voters think about two things. First, your lack of support for our Second Amendment. Then your poor decision to select this location for your town hall.”

Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, who was elected in November, campaigned last year on promises to address gun safety and has said reducing gun violence would be among her top priorities.

“I have made gun violence prevention one of my top priorities since the day I was sworn in to Congress,” she said in a statement Tuesday. “The U.S. House of Representatives has taken major steps forward to protect our communities from gun violence, passing the first major gun safety legislation in a generation to expand background checks to all firearm sales. Now, we are calling on Senate Majority Leader McConnell to allow a vote on this pragmatic, bipartisan legislation so we can prevent dangerous weapons from falling into the wrong hands.” 

When Stevens attempted to answer a submitted question on assault weapons, some audience members loudly interrupted her. One man yelled: "That’s a media made-up term."

Shortly after, Wittenberg, D-Huntington Woods, who has pushed "red flag" gun legislation in the House, sparked "boos" when he discussed possible restrictions for some people.

"..We don’t have the proper laws and mechanisms in place to try to prohibit people from getting weapons that shouldn’t have them," he said.

Some attendees thanked Stevens for addressing gun control.

Others were dismayed by the frequent arguing.

"Why is it a partisan issue?" said one woman who declined to give her name. "People should have listened to each other."