Photo credits: Jose Alonso via Unsplash
In December 2022, I wrote an article for the News section of The Quad on gun violence in America. Plainly titled “Gun Violence Update,” it documented and reflected on the tragedies that our country has experienced. As I was sitting down to write that article, I was learning of a new shooting, the Florida A&M University tragedy where one person was killed and four others were injured. This news story was followed by the Louisiana tragedy, on that very same day, where five people were shot on Bourbon Street. Ever since I can remember, gun violence and mass shootings have been a prevalent problem. Columbine High School’s mass shooting in 1999 occurred just months before many of us were born. We were brought into this world amidst an epidemic that would unfortunately stay with us forever.
The Gun Violence Archive reports that in 2022 there were 647 mass shootings. 1,362 teens (ages 12-17) were killed due to gun violence, with another 3,802 injured. Everytown Research, a gun control advocacy group, ranks Pennsylvania #15 out of 50 on their gun safety strength. Pennsylvania “requires background checks for handgun purchases at point of sale and/or for permit to purchase,” and “requires any person who carries a concealed firearm in public to first obtain a permit.” Pennsylvania is still lacking in many safety laws regarding firearms.
There is a secondary loss that comes along with the blatant tragedy of mass shootings. While mourning the deaths of those taken by gun violence, communities are forced to mourn the loss of safety. Schools cease to be a place where parents feel at peace dropping their children off in the morning. Places of worship fail to be protected property. Safe havens for marginalized groups, such as LGBTQ+ gatherings, prove unsafe. Mass shootings affect more than those directly impacted.
Having grown up in a nation rife with gun violence, students are all too familiar. For many of us, headlines highlighting new tragedies are no longer shocking. We are desensitized to the loss because it is happening all the time. Students have experienced routine lockdown drills, and listen to the run, hide, fight speech too many times to count. I have watched as girls my age, who look like me, and like music like me, lose their lives to gun violence. There is no more feeling safe at school, or in public spaces. It is unsettling to look for the exit signs as you walk into the first day of class, or to check for hiding spots during the icebreakers.
In just over a week, the second month of the year will conclude. There have been 75 mass shootings in 2023 already. It is disheartening to write about a social cause that so many people in power do not care enough about. This past week Michigan State University experienced a school shooting where three students were killed, and another five remain in the hospital. Jackie Matthews, a Michigan State University student, took to TikTok to discuss her experiences. “I am a twenty one year old and this is the second mass shooting I have now lived through.” Surviving both the recent MSU shooting, and the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, Matthews is advocating for change. “We can no longer provide just love and prayers. It needs to be legislation, it needs to be action. It’s not OK,” she said. “We can no longer allow this to happen. We can no longer be complacent. I’ll forever be Sandy Hook Strong; I’ll forever be Spartan Strong.”
There is a time and a place for solutions and political advocacy, but this is not it. Instead, I urge you to reflect on how mass shootings, and school shootings have impacted your lives. Statistics show that gun violence is only growing in prevalence. The reality is that however bad we think it is now, it is only going to get worse. Do what you are able to do. Educate yourself on Pennsylvania gun laws, stay up to date on safety precautions and take care of yourself. I wish it was enough to simply tell everyone to “look out for one another.”
Emily Hart is a fourth-year English major. EH943163@wcupa.edu