Rev. Nathan Dannsion was lying in bed, burping his baby and scrolling through his Facebook feed--a common ritual for many new parents, he says--when he came across a post about the Battle Creek Bombers "Second Amendment Education Night." The event, among other things, encouraged patrons to bring their guns to last Friday night's game. "This is the stupidest thing I have ever seen," Dannison exclaimed out loud.
As pastor of First United Church of Christ in downtown Kalamazoo, Dannison gave support to countless people in the aftermath of the Feb. 20 shooting in Kalamazoo that killed six, including residents of Battle Creek, and injured two. He felt especially angry that an organization would promote guns at a local event after losing members of its community to a mass shooting mere months earlier.
Dannison immediately started agitating on social media, creating a Moveon.org petition
, that asks the league to make all of their games gun-free zones and seeks an apology from the Northwoods League. The league includes 18 teams in Michigan and Wisconsin, including the Battle Creek Bombers and the Kalamazoo Growlers.
Dannison and those working with him also are calling on all financial supporters to drop their sponsorship of the Battle Creek Bombers, the Kalamazoo Growlers, and the entire Northwoods League.
"We are... calling each and every sponsor of the local teams--including the Kalamazoo Growlers--and explaining the situation," Dannison says. "We will not stop until there are no corporate sponsors of any Northwoods League team anywhere in the Midwest. If the sponsors refuse to pull their support we will boycott their products."
'Sick with gun worship'
Though Dannison is a gun owner--he has owned 12 guns, including handguns--he says, "America is sick with gun worship. Many Americans own guns because they believe, wrongly, that a gun will keep you safe. A gun will not keep you safe. In fact, statistically speaking, having a gun in your house makes you less safe."
Multiple studies have found a correlation between gun ownership and firearm-related deaths, like this 2013 study
, which concludes, "the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer."
According to a Congressional Research Service Report
in 2009, the latest data available, "the estimated total number of firearms available to civilians in the United States had reached approximately 310 million.
So far, more than 350 people have signed the MoveOn petition. One comment reads, "Did you forget about the mass shooting in Kalamazoo (just a short stretch from BC) in February? Did you consider that many would consider this insensitive in the highest degree?"
Another called the choice to hold the event, "poor judgement," and said, "A baseball game is not a place to promote gun culture." Others pointed to children's and families' rights to feel safe and free from guns at a baseball game. The night of the event was also Boy Scouts' Night.
Ironically, The Kalamazoo Growlers held a fundraiser for the shooting and cycling victims' families on the same evening as the Bomber's held their Gun Night.
'Zero protestors, zero complaints'
We reached out to the Battle Creek Bombers management three times to ask for a response to community members' reaction to the event and the boycott efforts. General Manager of the Battle Creek Bombers Anthony Iovieno, said he would not address questions about community concerns, saying it sounded to him as if Second Wave was presenting a "biased misinformed slam piece."
Iovieno did say that he received very little backlash. "Zero protestors. Zero complaints day of game. Zero incidents during the game." Backlash to the event did draw lots of attention, though, even national media coverage, including in The Washington Post,
, where Iovieno was quoted, comparing LGBTQ bigotry to a community's concerns about safety and gun violence:
"There are always going to be folks who don't agree with what we do," Iovieno said. "We just had LGBT Pride Night the other night and some people didn't like that either. You can't please everyone."
What does the family of a victim of the Kalamazoo shootings think?
Meanwhile, Abbie Kopf, the youngest victim of the Kalamazoo shooting, and one of only two survivors, is still struggling after being shot in the head in February. According to her dad, Gene Kopf, "Abbie has had a setback, because infection set in requiring that her plate be removed. She is currently on IV antibiotics. A new plate should be installed within three months, if all goes well."
Gene Kopf said he wasn't surprised by the Bomber's gun-themed night. He says, "I am not here to take away guns or tell people how to solve the problem. I believe that if we are determined and creative enough to put men on the Moon, we can solve our gun violence problem, but in order to do this, we must be focused on the issue and open to advice."
Kopf, who, since the shooting, has become an outspoken advocate of gun-violence prevention, points to U.S. statistical data on gun violence. "We lost 33,000 Americans last year alone to gun violence," he says. "We have a mass shooting (on) average every other day, which means that if we had one yesterday, one will probably happen by tomorrow."
'Provocative, insensitive, calculated'
Erin Knott is a Kalamazoo city commissioner, who is also committed to reducing gun violence. She is one of the several hundred people who signed the MoveOn petition. She says, "We had the Kalamazoo Strong game in Kalamazoo on Friday night and then Battle Creek--where there were two residents that were impacted by the gun tragedy in February--where they were doing this Take Your Gun to the ballgame. I felt like it was provocative and insensitive, maybe even calculated."
She goes on, "The Manager says this has been in the works since last October. That all being said, I don't know why they couldn't have cancelled this simply because the tragedy that happened in our community happened in February. That's plenty of notice... just say, 'You know what? I think it's too soon. It's insensitive.'"
Knott and her partner attended a Growler's game last week. She said the promotion of gun culture at that game by a regular financial backer of the team made her and her partner so uncomfortable that they left after the fourth inning. Because of that, they determined they wouldn't be back even before she heard about the Bomber's gun-themed night.
"There were two messages that kind of rotated between the action," Knott says. "The announcer would either say 'Go to Tactical Advantage Guns Facebook page and submit for defensive player of the game,' or the other message was, 'Make sure you stop by Tactical Advantage Guns.'" Knott says that by the fourth inning she was done.
"I was flat-out over the advertising of guns. When I go to a baseball game--as somebody who works in politics--it's kind of an opportunity for me to just unwind and not think about the public policy that I work on or that I'm tracking as it relates to my passions and my 9 to 5. I couldn't just relax and enjoy the ball game."
The 'alpha-male' and gun violence
Knott says the ways she's heard management refer to baseball as "father-son events" demonstrates "the relationship between whiteness, masculinity, the alpha male, and gun violence." She says, "These things happen and we're so quick to say, 'well it was an act of terrorism' or 'it was radical Islam' or 'all mental illnesses' or another label that we put on why these things happen," but statistics point to another and more universal trait of mass shooters--gender.
Nearly every mass shooting (defined by the FBI as a shooting that takes place in a public place, where four or more people are killed) is committed by a male. In fact, this open-source database
, which tracks mass shootings between 1982 and 2016, shows that more than 96 percent of mass shootings were committed by men.
Knott believes this is a piece of the puzzle that needs to be examined. She says that she can't answer why gun violence has become such an epidemic in the U.S., but she does believe that the situation can't be written off with simple explanations. "Gun violence is preventable," she says, "and the U.S. needs a public health approach to solving the problem."
"It's a Public Health crisis and we need to be looking at core activities that interrupt the cycle of violence--from identifying risk factors, developing interventions, determining and establishing best practices. … We need to examine it and find the resources and funding to find those best practices and strategies that will help curb the crisis that’s impacting all of our communities," Knott says.
Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?
Those opposed to legislation aimed at preventing gun violence often default to their constitutional right to have guns. Gene Kopf says, "There is a document which preceded the Constitution. It is the 'mission statement' of the United States which is still the pulse of every bit of our society. This document has seven noble words which tell us the intents of the Founders and every law to this day. Those words are "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Kopf goes on, "When we are losing our citizens every day, we don't have life. When we fear sending our children to school or that our fellow citizens will shoot us, we are under the tyrannical yoke of fear, not liberty. When we bury our family and friends or tend their wounds, we no longer pursue happiness."
Erin Knott believes that the most positive outcome from all of this would be a heightened awareness about gun violence and a willingness to do something about it. She says, "There's a Grassroots movement building--we're seeing our lawmakers taking action... I believe that this will continue to just fuel the fire that aims at public policy change that helps with the overall kind of gun violence prevention pieces of legislation--at both the Congressional in the legislative levels - that are out there." Knott hopes that when people go to the polls this year, they will have these issues on their minds
Kathi Valeii is a freelance writer, living in Kalamazoo. You can find her at her website, kathivaleii.com.
Erin Knott photo by Fran Dwight
Nathan and Heather Dannison photo by Kaitlin LaMoine Photography