On Wednesday last week, the Eaton County Board of Commissioners began with a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Michigan State University shooting tragedy. Later in the meeting, they debated the passage of a resolution in a manner that was anything but silent.
Todd Heywood reported on the meeting in an online story headlined “Eaton County Board of Commissioners rejects gun violence resolution.” If you have the stomach for it, you can link to a recording of the debate by googling the headline. It is very tempting to counter each specious argument made by those against the resolution, which failed, 8-7, along party lines: Eight Republicans opposed, seven Democrats in favor. But that would distract us from the issue now terribly at hand: Students were murdered and students were injured by a man with a gun. Again.
It is, however, important to acknowledge the facts. The resolution stated, “The Board stands with the students of Michigan State University and the people of the State of Michigan in demanding effective and comprehensive action on gun safety legislation to protect students, teachers, parents, support staff, and others visiting the schools of Eaton County from gun violence.” Additionally, it called for “appropriate adequate new funds to increase the numbers of counselors, mental health staff, psychologists, and social workers in our communities to both prevent and respond to gun violence.” That’s it. It was general in nature. It asked the state Legislature to address gun safety and mental health needs.
Not surprisingly, Republicans jumped on Carol Siemon, the progressive former Ingham County prosecutor, because she had accepted a plea bargain after the shooter, Anthony McRae, was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit in 2019. They ignored that McRae didn’t brandish the gun or even display it. The suspect freely told police that he was carrying a weapon when he was asked if he was. It was a question that McRae had given police no reason to ask. His explanation was that he had walked to the store to get cigarettes and was concerned about his safety. He was not using the weapon. Why did the police engage with the suspect in the first place? Because he was sitting on the steps of an abandoned building at 1:30 a.m. In his hand when police approached him were a cigarette and his cell phone. As he told police, “I normally come here.”
Eaton County’s Republican commissioners sought to blame Siemon because McRae was not in jail on a gun charge on Feb. 13. Who doesn’t wish that? But in any jurisdiction in Michigan, the original charge would have not ended up with prison time, given it was his first offense. Moreover, his lawyer made a valid point in seeking the charge to be dismissed because the police had no cause to question the man in the first place, making the entire interaction unconstitutional. Indeed, the arrest appears to be an excellent example of why Siemon chose in 2021 to limit gun charges in unrelated stops: because far more Black people were being charged, raising the specter of racial profiling. In any case, it’s only in hindsight, and by purposely twisting the facts, that the plea deal appears questionable. It is the kind of illogical thinking and political spin that sadly have been common in public discourse.
Commissioner Jacob Toomey — a 20-year-old Michigan State University student — offered a resolution that made an effort to express solidarity with MSU and did not accuse anyone or any party of the attack on innocents. The resolution supported gun safety measures. A wide majority of citizens support such legislation, including 60% of NRA members. In addition, the resolution proposed that adequate funding be provided for mental health. This is an issue supported by both parties.
The vitriol expressed by its opponents was completely out of line with the resolution. One commissioner, Brian Droscha, argued that gun regulation was “communistic.” In a breathtaking non-sequitur, one member emotionally thanked a commissioner for “not aborting” his children. It was a classic example of politicians behaving badly.
Worse than that, their behavior replaced the solidarity our community was feeling in our common grief — literally as thousands attended a vigil at MSU — with partisan rage. They argued to be right, rather than working to get it right. While families of the victims reeled in sorrow, some elected representatives believe that any attempt at solving the issues that lead to this peculiarly American problem was a personal attack on them.
Why can’t America stop its gun madness? What occurred in Eaton County is unfortunately indicative of the irrational opposition that keeps our nation from taking steps in a more sensible direction. Solving the problem of being a nation with far too many guns and far too easy access to them is challenging enough. Is it asking too much of our leaders to behave like rational adults? Citizens should demand it. Citizens deserve it. The frenzied debate that is all too common in Eaton County is damaging to the community. It is way past time for the elected representatives in Eaton County to work together to find solutions.
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