by Alexis Barton
So far into 2023, the United States has seen an alarming number of mass shootings. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been at least 80 different mass shootings across the country up until mid-February. In the weekend following Valentine’s Day, the country faced a weekend-high of ten different shooting events with over 50 victims within the three day span. These tragedies took place across the country, including cities like Memphis, Chicago, and New Orleans during the height of their vibrant Mardi Gras celebrations.
These tragedies have become too common in news cycles, as the news of one shooting is quickly overrun by another shooting within days or even hours. For many young Americans, particularly students, the constant fear associated with these events have become normal. In the American public education system, students have experienced active shooter and intruder drills from a young age. The slogan “Run, Fight, Hide” has been taught to students of all ages to help give them a quick reference of actions to take in what seems to be the inevitable active shooter situation. This strategic planning recently became the reality for students at Michigan State University, where a gunman opened fire on February 14. While students were eating dinner, studying and meeting up with friends after a day of classes, they received a text message through the University’s emergency alert program informing them of the danger on campus. The message included the familiar run, fight, hide strategy, reminding students to lock their doors, turn off lights, and shelter-in-place. Several videos circulated on Tik Tok of the shooter attempting to impersonate law enforcement and convince students to unlock the door. Though a few outliers were tempted to oblige, the familiarity that most students have with these events led them to stay where they were and keep the door locked. This ultimately saved their lives, as three other students were killed during the event and five more were injured. Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner were the three Spartans whose lives were taken that day.
Although Michigan State is one of the few schools among the list of mass shootings so far in 2023, there have been a number of school shootings thus far in the new year. According to Education Week, there have been seven school shootings that have claimed the lives of one student, injured seven, and traumatized hundreds of others.
Within the Commonwealth, there was a shooting at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, where a six-year-old student shot his teacher during the school day. Despite several warnings for weeks about the student’s behavior, including an incident before Christmas where he smashed his teacher’s phone, the school administration gave little support to the teacher, Abby Zwerner. On the day of the incident, the student was behaving aggressively and showed the weapon to other students along with the threat that if they told a teacher, he would shoot them too. Several teachers in addition to Zwerner alerted school administration about the weapon. Several other teachers offered to search the student’s person and his bag, but administration declined saying that his pockets were “too little” to hold a weapon and that it was close to the end of the school day. Zwerner was shot soon after those conversations while she was in the middle of teaching. Fortunately she was able to direct the other students outside of the classroom safely and help detain the shooter.
Despite their high frequency, these events are by no means “normal” in the global context. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States makes up less than five percent of the world’s population, but makes up around 46 percent of the world’s civilian gun owner population (2018). Though gun ownership itself does not necessarily equate to a high frequency of acts of violence, the trends of suicide using guns, school shootings, and mass shootings have ticked upwards at similar rates across recent history.
Legislators now face increased pressure from gun rights lobbyists and gun control activists alike as the conversation shifts to policy solutions. With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, it is unlikely that major reform will happen in regard to current gun ownership policies. However, the voices of Americans carry a great amount of power and it is only a matter of time before voices turn into written legislation to protect the lives of future generations.