Ford School Firearm Violence Talk Uses “Public Health” Framing to Distract from the Fact That They’re Taking Away Your Rights

As I sat in the Ford School of Public Policy, I waited with baited breath for the magic phrase to be uttered that would indicate some semblance of bipartisan consideration. To my dismay, it took an hour and fifteen minutes for “the Second Amendment” to grace the stage at the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention lecture on September 22. Instead of acknowledging the initial premise that firearms are constitutionally protected, the lecturers launched straight into touting federal policies that pick and choose who deserves to keep their right to bear arms. 

But Michigan isn’t known for protecting the rights of its students, particularly when it comes to firearm ownership. Its blanket prohibition on firearms applies to all property owned by the University of Michigan system, even if individuals have Michigan concealed carry licenses. It is ironic that the University would sponsor a talk on firearm injury prevention when its own students and community should, in theory, have no interactions with guns. Furthermore, little mention was made of the firearm violence issue in Detroit; Baltimore, New Orleans, and New York were the areas of focus at the symposium.  

But my greatest disappointment with the lecture was that most of the presenters failed to share firearm safety tips and good ownership practices. No effort was made to educate the audience on safe storage, high-magazine capacity bans, or the constitutionality of red flag laws. In fact, the crowd was treated as though we had never operated a gun and simply hoped to remove guns from society by all legal means necessary. 

What good is advocating for gun control policy that cannot succeed in a Democrat-controlled Congress? 

Rod Brunson, a professor of police-community relations and youth violence, unsurprisingly castigated police for their systemic mistreatment of the black community. Police are at fault for much of the high firearm injury rates, he claimed. To his credit, he proposed some common sense gun violence reforms including equipping the Department of Justice to bolster civilian confidence in the police and mandate police documentation of their civilian interactions. But police-community interactions only comprise one percent of firearm fatalities in our nation today.   

Continuing the trend of pointing fingers, April Zeoli of our own School of Public Health blamed the state and federal government for allowing dating partners to hold onto their firearms even if a restraining order has been issued against them. She presented her policy ideas through a heart-wrenching story about a victim of domestic violence whose abusive boyfriend maintained ownership of his firearms after she filed a restraining order against him. This dramatic story was entirely inappropriate for a discussion on policy. This event was not a spoken word poetry contest; it was a scholarly debate. 

Touting the use of green space and affordable housing, Sonali Rajan of Columbia University certainly had an abstract vision for preventing firearm injuries. She supported reframing firearm violence as a public health epidemic (an approach the NRA has routinely debunked) as well as an all-of-the-above gun control approach: bans on “assault weapons,” high-capacity magazines, restricting gun ownership to citizens 21 and older including permit requirements for purchases made by 21 year olds, red flag laws, AND increased background checks.

This omnibus of firearm-related legislation is exactly what failed in the Senate this summer within the Protecting Our Kids Act. What good is advocating for gun control policy that cannot succeed in a Democrat-controlled Congress? 

To his credit, only Johns Hopkins Public Health Professor Daniel Webster acknowledged that gun ownership was a right. He defended strict licensing requirements and mandatory basic safety training as ideal solutions to the firearm injury rates we see today; while perhaps helping responsible gun owners incur fewer accidental injuries, neither of these are likely to deter crime, homicide, or suicide. People who inappropriately brandish their firearms with malicious intent will only be sharper shooters with mandated training, not less likely to shoot. 

The crowd was treated as though we had never operated a gun and simply hoped to remove guns from society by all legal means necessary.

Michigan, and the Ford School in particular, has an echo chamber problem. Anti-gun policies that have already failed our legislature and hasty generalizations about the character of dating partners were praised as some of the most promising policies to curb gun violence in 2022. The public policy program is in dire need of new material, perhaps from both anti- and pro-gun scholars this time.  

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About Lindsay Keiser

Lindsay Keiser was co-editor in chief of the Michigan Review.