We have waited too long for something to change.
Most students spend their Monday of the first full week of classes begrudgingly mourning the end of summer, feeling the sweat droplets accumulate on their shirts, and staring off into space while their professor rambles. For UNC-Chapel Hill students, their Monday was spent much differently. First-year student Cogan McMichaels spent his sixth day on campus locked in a dark dorm room with his roommate waiting for updates from the police. Other UNC students climbed out of windows in an attempt to escape an active school shooter. Many barricaded themselves in the library’s study rooms and discussed what to do if someone banged on the door to come in. Although relieved when an all-clear was finally given after three hours, most students still had not processed what happened.
The terror commenced after Taipei Qi, a 34-year-old UNC graduate student, shot his research advisor, Zijie Yan. Though he immediately exited school grounds, students braced for the worst; after all, they are in a nation that experiences X amount of shootings per year. Yan was an associate professor in the Department of Applied Physical Science who worked at UNC since July 2019. A father of two, Yan was deeply respected, knowledgeable, approachable, and the leader of the Yan Research Group. Qi is currently in jail without bond and faces charges of first-degree murder in addition to possession of a firearm on educational property.
On college campuses, 94 people have been killed in at least 308 instances of gunfire, including individual attacks, legal intervention, and self-harm, between 2013 and 2022. From 1966 to 2020, 98 people have been killed in 12 mass shootings–attacks that involve three or more people–at US colleges, and 75% of those have taken place in the past 16 years. This year alone, there were at least 86 gun violence incidents on all campuses, regardless of education level, that resulted in a total of 27 deaths and 57 injuries nationally.
The deadliest mass shooting on a university campus happened at Virginia Tech in 2007 when a former student killed 32 people and injured 23. This crisis was the first to bring massive awareness to college campus safety and emergency responses to gun violence. Major safety concerns for students moved from primarily natural disasters to other physical threats. Campus security had to be transformed. It demanded a nuanced, all-encompassing method by schools, state governments and federal agencies to identify threats and troubling behavior prior to any harm inflicted.
However, all the awareness brought about by the incident at Virginia Tech did not bring the change that the tragedy mandated. Based on the data, it catalyzed a subsequent chain of other adversities, and students subsequently feel extremely anxious about possible attacks in public areas.
Colleges are harder to protect than K-12 schools given their size, abundance and inability to be fully enclosed. From lawns to libraries, there are a number of student hotspots that require absolutely no verification or credentials to embark on due to their accessibility. For example, the tragedy at Michigan State University earlier this year happened because someone with no connection to the school was able to freely go on-site to murder three people and injure five others. The ease of these attacks is incredibly unsettling.
About 2 in 10 US adults say they or someone close to them has had a personal experience with gun violence. The sheer amount of people in the US who experience gun violence has only increased after huge massacres that demanded change were ignored year after year. Responses to activism are to help settle controversy and address public requisitions for change. It is repeatedly forgotten thereafter all loud lamentations are stifled.
In a survey, 65% of students said school shootings made them concerned for their safety on campus, and 63% said that stricter gun laws would help them feel more protected. Additionally, gun policy and control ranked in the top three voting issues for college students in the recent 2022 election. Students just want to feel safe in the increasingly everlasting epidemic of ignored gun violence.
Decades of stagnation have permanently damaged communities. Mass shootings do not only affect victims; they inflict lasting psychological effects through the trauma experienced by survivors, families of victims, and surrounding communities. Survivors may also face physical injuries, long-term disabilities and financial burdens related to recovery. Shootings impact society as a whole through increasing fear, social isolation and a sense of helplessness. Acts of gun violence must be nationally prevented, not regretted.
We are told that it takes time, and policies develop very slowly. Yet, how many people must die before anything is genuinely different? Why is it increasingly becoming more likely to potentially get shot? How many times will the news display another tragedy calling for change when nothing happened since the last one?
Noel Harris, a senior journalism student at UNC said she spent hours being confused and scared locked in a classroom. She said, “I felt myself just being scared and shocked, but then not shocked at the same time because it’s like, this happens everyday.”
Legislatures all too often view debates about gun policies as political battles with an outcome assigning a reigning victor. In reality, human lives are lost and only continue to be taken due to the lack of priority associated with such a monumental issue. Entire sections of society severely struggle while politicians remain prideful.
Shootings are becoming common enough that they may now read just as mere media headlines and numerical quantities. Even phrases like “we demand change” and “not one more” have become meaningless. These shootings represent people, families, children, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and many more. Traumatic mental and physical pain from gun violence steadfastly diffuses to irrevocably change lives.
Whichever party prevails, whatever policy is in place, it is only important to protect people in the best way possible; it does not truly matter what player in the political game wins. The momentum for change must be conserved and acted upon by those in power to save lives. The clock ticks as apathy inadvertently builds upon a devastating butterfly effect firmly ingrained in American culture that only perpetuates suffering. All that is being asked for is guaranteed safety in response to the ever-longingly repeated tragedies.
With how easy it presently is to obtain a gun, a right to shoot seems to be more valuable than a right to live. When do we say stop? Increasing national complacency towards gun violence plus shootings’ multiplier effect equals a future of built-in bullet-proof vests for all Americans. Recent years of history show that it is only becoming more normal; we must sincerely do something to help save the futures of so many people. Children endlessly relearn new safety procedures and dedicate school days to practicing what to do in unsafe scenarios instead of learning. Holding drills that involve kids crouching under their desks with the lights off and a paper taped over the door window does not solve gun violence.
David Hogg is a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting that took 17 lives in 2018. He said in response to the UNC tragedy,
“Our entire lives, as a generation, we’ve been told to run, hide, and fight. We’ve asked for too long, and waited for too long to make this change, and we have to be that change. We need to refuse to hide from the responsibility that we have to protect future generations.”
It feels like the momentum for transformation after every shooting becomes less and less like it is becoming old news. It is incredibly sad as it is shocking, and genuine change must happen in order to save the lives of many. We do not know the future, but we should do what we can to protect it. By advocating for real change, we can help save the lives of those that come after us.
Penny is a University of Florida student and Writer for Rowdy Magazine.