Unexpected Advocate

Unexpected Advocate

As a psychiatrist and mother of two, Sonya Lewis, MPH '15, was used to being a "nontraditional" student. Now she's a nontraditional graduate. Two months before finishing her degree at U-M SPH last May, Lewis found herself taking on a new and unexpected role, as a gun-safety advocate.

It started when Lewis attended her daughter's spring choral concert at Ann Arbor's Pioneer High School. In the audience that evening was a man with a gun - and a license to carry it. As Lewis and many others in the crowd would soon learn, under Michigan law it's legal to carry an unconcealed weapon, with ammunition, in schools and certain other public venues as long as you've got a concealed pistol license.

The episode made local headlines - and galvanized parents like Lewis, who became the de facto leader of a movement to ban firearms in Michigan schools. "I never knew much about politics," says Lewis, a practicing psychiatrist who went into public health hoping to help prevent depression and other mental health maladies.

Now she finds herself tackling what she views as a critical public health issue. "Even if we take out intentional shootings, accidental discharges occur with alarming frequency and result in tragedies for individuals and communities," Lewis says.

Although she concedes that the issue "is a lot more complicated than I thought," and the political system at times confounding, Lewis embraces her new role. With other supporters she's working to close the legislative loophole that permits firearms to be carried in Michigan schools, and to heighten public understanding of the issue. Whatever the outcome, Lewis says, "it's getting a conversation going."