Political canvasser’s murder in Lansing brings youth gun violence to the fore


Sunday’s shooting death of Ted Lawson as he campaigned door-to-door for Lansing City Council candidate Trini Lopez Pehlivanoglu on a neighborhood street can’t be simply chalked up as a sad tragedy and the city’s ninth homicide of the year.

It’s nothing short of an outrage.

A 15-year-old kid was allegedly walking along North Jenison Avenue, inexplicably carrying a gun. He and Lawson supposedly had an exchange that ended with the 63-year-old being shot in the head at 3 in the afternoon.

The cold-blooded murder has Lansing political people clearly rattled because of its numerous implications.

This wasn’t somebody hanging out with the wrong people. This wasn’t a regrettable, isolated domestic incident where tempers spun out of control. This wasn’t even an accidental shooting in which someone mistakenly shot a bullet in the air.

This was the treasurer of the Ingham County Democratic Party sharing information to Lansing voters about a political candidate. It’s a civil activity conducted by hundreds of good, well-meaning people every fall weekend.

These are people who feel passionate enough about their causes to share them with others. It’s one of the most basic forms of public participation there is.

Hopefully, we’ll learn more about the exchange between this armed child and Lawson during the judicial process, but we can all be assured this was in no way justified.

Issue No. 1: How is a 15-year-old wandering around our neighborhood streets with a gun? Where did he get it? Why did he feel a need to have it? Is this a parental failure? A failure of society? Of government?

The Greater Lansing community experienced the horror of a gunman firing into a Michigan State University classroom this year. In that case, the shooter was a grown man. He was clearly troubled, but by all accounts, he legally purchased the firearm.

Unless this 15-year-old was hunting deer in the woods with a licensed adult, he can’t legally handle a gun.

Issue No. 2: How can people in any neighborhood, particularly this one, feel safe?

My family drives by this exact spot sometimes multiple times a day. I jogged with my son down this road the other day without thinking twice about it.

This isn’t a shady part of town either, not that it matters. Neighbors have their blown-up Halloween decorations up. The homes are well-kept. Lawns are mowed. There’s a couple of churches around.

This isn’t some burned-out neighborhood. On a normal weekend day, people are regularly out walking their dogs. Kids are playing outside. You can smell someone’s barbeque grill going.

Now we must worry about kids my daughter’s age carrying guns up and down the street, seemingly indiscriminately shooting random people over God knows what?

We’re blessed to have (no joke) hundreds of kids of all ages trick or treating on our street every Halloween. It’s hard to think this one won’t be different.

Issue No. 3: Not that this rises to the top of everybody’s list of concerns, but local political office-seekers are going to have a problem, at least in the short term, finding people willing to canvass for them.

Clearly, this is a first-time occurrence. But people aren’t going to feel safe sticking fliers in front doors when one of the city’s favorite Democratic volunteers lost his life while doing it.

Mayor Andy Schor, the Lansing Police Department and folks in the neighborhood where the shooting took place should be commended for working together to apprehend a suspect in fewer than 48 hours.

If the courts find the correct person has been apprehended, we can breathe a little easier.

Still, it’s hard to compartmentalize this outrageous incident as one-and-done.

What happened to Lawson could happen to anyone.

It’s what makes this killing so startling to politicians. One of their own was murdered while doing something that they, themselves, have done for years in a seemingly regular, safe neighborhood.

It moves the issue of youth gun violence away from the theoretical to something that’s uncomfortably personal.

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.)


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