Out of control: Lansing’s gun violence is about more than guns


When he was 14, Adam Hussain witnessed a gun homicide in Risdale Park, along Pleasant Grove Road in south Lansing. He and his friends were on foot to a basketball court when a man arrived in a cab. The man got out of the car and began shooting at the court. One man was killed.

“That was so shocking to us at that time because although we would see fights and we would see people get into it, we didn’t see that,” he said. When there were fights and people went for a weapon, it was a baseball bat or a golf club, not a gun.

Leaders from Lansing and Ingham County addressing a spike in violence during a press conference on Aug. 7. (From left): Ingham County Prosecutor John Dewane, Lansing Police Chief Ellery Sosebee, Mayor Andy Schor, Pastor Damon Milton of Voice of Power Deliverance Ministry, Bishop Alfred Singleton of Breadhouse International Ministries, Paul Elam from Advance Peace Lansing and Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth.
Leaders from Lansing and Ingham County addressing a spike in violence during a press conference on Aug. 7. (From left): Ingham County Prosecutor John …

Hussain, now a City Council member whose ward includes Risdale Park, has a unique perspective on the violence in the city. As a youth, he fell in with a group of teens who, like him, were raised by single mothers. They were “latchkey kids,” left to their own devices after school, and they were in disputes with other youth across the city.

“I think back to when some of my friends were young and I think about how explosive we were at the time,” he said. “And I wonder, had folks had access to guns how many would folks still be here? It’s scary. It’s really scary.”

The explosiveness of young men remains today. The difference is they have access to guns — mostly illegal guns. Hussain joined Mayor Andy Schor and others in a news conference last week noting the easy access to those guns. Some are stolen, some not legally registered. Some are so-called ghost guns, built with easily accessible kits from the internet.

During the Aug. 7 press conference with Schor, law enforcement and leadership of the Advance Peace Lansing antigun violence program, the focus on a weeks-long spike in gun violence was on the guns. Schor called the illegal guns “an out-of-control problem.”

The city was the scene of a mass shooting at Logan Square Shopping Center July 30. The following day, a man was shot on the east side and the accused shooters attempted to attack another person on the south side before being arrested after a pursuit by police. And there was also a domestic violence incident that escalated into a murder involving a gun on Forest Road. In Pleasant Grove Plaza, a week after the shootings in Logan Square, a man was shot and killed in his car. His body sat there, bleeding, for nearly an hour before someone called the police.

Lansing Police Chief Ellery Sosebee and Ingham County Prosecutor John Dewane promised swift enforcement against illegal guns.

“It’s because there are illegal guns that are available to people to get ahold of whether they’re stolen or they’re 3-D printed,” Schor told City Pulse. “Our prosecutor said at the press conference that we’re seeing people making their own guns. All of that makes it very easy for people who do not have concealed weapons permits and haven’t gone through training and don’t legitimately have those guns to gather. That is a huge problem.”

While easy access to guns is a concern and problem in Lansing, the gun violence is driven by deeper, more complicated and entrenched social issues that can’t be solved overnight.

This heat map created by Advance Peace Lansing documents where Lansing gun violence occurred between Jan.  31, 2021, and July 5, 2023. There were 20 incidents in northwestern Lansing, 31 incidents in the northeast, 34 in the southwest and 37 in the southeast. Another 24 incidents did not have an area of the city identified.
This heat map created by Advance Peace Lansing documents where Lansing gun violence occurred between Jan. 31, 2021, and July 5, 2023. There were 20 …


The problem by the numbers

In 2020, as the city was roiling from Black Lives Matter protests and COVID restrictions, Lansing saw a spike in gun violence. By the end of the year, 13 people were dead from gun violence, 85 more were injured, and Ingham County dispatch tracked 1,490 calls for “shots fired.” Law enforcement confirmed active gunshots in 471 of those calls.

All of the data cited was collected and published by Advance Peace Lansing on its website, advancepeacelansingingham.org.

Lansing Eastern High School graduate DeVone Boggan proposed the city join Advance Peace, a program he founded that aims at intervening in retaliatory gun violence through mentorships with those identified as likely to be involved in the violence and people previously convicted of violence.

But bidding processes for the intervention on gun violence delayed the disbursement of funding until 2022. Meanwhile, the violence continued. 

In 2021, Lansing saw the highest homicide rate in decades. In total, 23 people died as a result of gun violence and 85 people were injured. There were 1,385 “shots fired” calls to dispatch, and 449 of those incidents were confirmed with the presence of shell casings or other incidents, according to data accumulated by Advance Peace Lansing. In 2022, 58 people were injured in gun violence, 13 people died, and there were 1,170 calls for shots fired. A total of 305 incidents were confirmed to have involved guns. And as of July of this year, there have been 47 people injured in gun violence, four deaths and 672 shots fired calls to dispatch. There have been 216 confirmed shooting incidents that didn’t involve injuries.

The gun violence is not restricted to the southern part of the city, as many believe. Data from Jan. 23, 2021, through July 5, 2023, shows there have been 20 incidents in the city’s northwestern sector, 31 incidents in the northeastern sector, 34 in the southwest and 37 incidents in in the southeast. A sector was not identified for 24 incidents.

The city, the county and the U.S. Department of Justice have all provided funding to community-based interventions to disrupt and end gun violence.

Renee Canady
Renee Canady


The underlying crisis

Easier access to guns is, as Schor said, “out of control,” but the gun violence is driven by more than just guns, said experts.

Renee Canady is the CEO of Michigan Public Health Institute. The organization oversees a number of public health programs throughout the state, including the Advance Peace program. She said the COVID crisis revealed disparities between Black and brown communities and white communities. Those disparities are “quite candidly the same reason why we see communities of color, communities burdened by poverty and lack of resources being disproportionately impacted by violence and gun violence.”

“It is the consequence of unresolved historical issues where inequities and othering and marginalizing groups of people resulted in lack of resources and lack of resources, contributes to poverty, and poverty contributes to depression, and depression contributes to hopelessness,” Canady continued. “Those experiences tend to be disproportionately the experiences of Black and brown communities, not just in Ingham County, not just in the state of Michigan, but really in our nation. It is a pattern that is replicated, it is systemic, and we offer that it’s unfair and it’s unjust. And that’s why we were excited about the opportunity and the privilege to be a part of disrupting this pattern in our community.”

This systemic inequity, Canady said, is the result of centuries of inequality and abuses of communities of color and a “myth” that the civil rights movement solved the crisis. “We changed laws during the civil rights movement, but we didn’t bring equity to our society. We just said, ‘OK, now you can eat in the same restaurants and now you can go to the same schools,’” she said. “But for people that were living in communities where the neighborhood school was under-resourced, we didn’t do anything to get this school all of the resources needed to educate the youth at the same standard as the youth in this wealthy community. These inequities have continued to haunt generation upon generation because we didn’t do anything to rectify the inequities amongst neighborhoods and communities and employment opportunities and educational opportunities. We simply flipped the switch and said, OK, from this point on, you can start doing these things. But if my children or other children don’t have the foundational preparation for succeeding in those settings, then they are not likely to succeed.”

In Advance Peace and other gun interruption programs, mentors not only communicate daily with those at risk for or involved in gun violence in the community but engage those youth in educational trips and access to jobs.

Up until the July 30 shooting at Logan Square, Lansing had witnessed a drop in the number of homicides compared to previous years. Canady said that while the recent spike in violence is a setback, it is not a defeat.

“You know some people say, it’s two steps forward and two steps backward, so it’s not working,” she said. “But I see it differently. It’s movement. It gives us more information on the next steps on how to address this problem. It’s movement and as long as we are moving, we are working toward solutions.”

One of the nonprofits funded to engage in disrupting gun violence in the community is The Village Lansing. It’s run by Michael Lynn Jr. and his wife, Erica. The duo approach violence intervention from a harm reduction perspective, rather than an “abstinence” model.

A Father’s Day event sponsored by The Village, a Lansing nonprofit that was formed to combat gun violence through prevention efforts.
A Father’s Day event sponsored by The Village, a Lansing nonprofit that was formed to combat gun violence through prevention efforts.

“This building is a place where we educate,” said Michael Lynn. “It’s a place that is right in the heart of what is to be, or what has been statistically known as one of the most violent places in the city.”

It’s a cycle of violence he, like Hussain, has more than a passing familiarity with.

“Our programming is really derived around what I needed as a young man when I was out here committing the same type of crimes,” he said.

The space on MLK Jr. Boulevard near Holmes Road is uncluttered, painted with murals of Black leaders and soothing. It’s a deliberate environment, the Lynns said.

“We can kind of break down some of these issues,” said Michael Lynn. “But this, this room right here, this building right here, has had a lot of incidents squashed in it.”

It’s quiet, necessarily unseen work. Bringing different groups that are actively engaged in retaliatory violence into the room, sitting them down and reframing the fights to create a detente of sorts.

But the Lynns, like Canady and Hussain, understand that addressing the violence requires addressing the underlying trauma of poverty, systemic violence and systemic racism and sexism.

“It’s the most important aspect,” of the work, said Michael Lynn. “I always say it’s almost similar to like somebody having a cut. And instead of putting a Band-Aid on it and stopping the bleed, we build a Band-Aid factory, which takes years and years and years and years to get to.”

That means the Lynns and others are out in the streets, reframing the crisis. It might mean working with two battling sides to stop carrying guns during an ongoing crisis and stopping law enforcement from being able to arrest them for having illegal guns. It might be providing classes to get a concealed carry permit for a legal gun.

“If we can just reduce the harm a little bit every day while all these other things that take a long time to procure, like building a Band-Aid factory, if we’re slowing down the harm during that process, then at least we’re doing something,” Michael Lynn said. “And that doesn’t always look good to people.”

The gun training grew out of a conversation with retired Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon. The majority of young Black men being dragged into the criminal justice system for the first time were being charged with felonies related to illegally carrying a gun, even when the gun was legal. The duo decided to offer free, limited attendance training for young Black men to get their CCWs, preventing them from ending up in the criminal justice system which ultimately impacts their employment prospects and housing.

The perception that gun violence is something experienced only in south Lansing is one Erica Lynn said is meant to continue the “othering” Canady pointed out as an underlying cause of violence.

“If we think about why that narrative is built, it’s because it’s a lot easier to ‘other’ a side of town that has already been othered and siloed and disenfranchised,” she said. “So, if you say that the issues are over there, it’s like people have already written them off to the south side and already know that that’s just that place where violence happens.”

Both Lynns acknowledge that machismo, or toxic masculinity, plays a role in the ongoing violence. But for the communities they are working with, “it’s not a conversation.”

“As you’re going through it in the world, you don’t see it that way,” Michael Lynn said. “When somebody points it out on a whiteboard and says, this is what that looks like. You know, when they puff their chest out and are scared to death, but gonna fight. That’s toxic masculinity. We didn’t understand that.”

Finding funding to address gun violence is difficult enough, said the Lynns. But it’s complicated by a system deliberately designed to allow certain Black people at the table while excluding others. In turn, the funding is misdirected to “low-hanging fruit” programs that ultimately have little to no effect on the deeper systemic issues driving the violence.

“The statistics tell us, the studies tell us, it’s not working,” said Erica Lynn said.. “So, we have to try something different. But then the folks that are trying something different are starting to see the systemic nature of all of it. When we start seeing the systemic nature of all of it, we start peeling back the layers and we start looking at poverty, trauma, violence, systemic racism, policy, laws. That’s where you’re easy to silo because that takes way too much. That takes real solutions, and that takes money, time, and resources. And often that’s not where people are actually wanting to go. They’re really wanting to say, ‘We’re fixing the problem.’”

Canady said digging behind the headlines and finger-pointing to issues like illegal guns and looking at the systems that underlay the gun violence problem is a “brave” and “difficult” conversation to have.

For his part, Schor said he realizes guns are just one part of the crisis.

“There’s no easy answer,” said Schor. “If there is, we would’ve found it years ago and it would’ve been done.”

Lansing gun deaths and injuries
Lansing gun deaths and injuries


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