The mass shooting at Michigan State University that killed three students and injured five others last week marked the 67th mass shooting in the United States — just this year. For us at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it is a horrific reminder of the pervasive gun violence at schools like ours.
As part of a generation where mass shootings have regularly killed our peers in their classrooms, it is also a sad reminder of inaction from our leaders. It is a reminder that our lives are at stake, and our classrooms and our student unions are not safe. It is a reminder that our peers will never feel at home again.
“As the barricades went up and the situation unraveled, we lost our home,” The MSU State News student newspaper wrote in a Feb. 16 editorial. “We lost our school. Instead, in its place, are two hollow buildings that are a shell of what they once represented, surrounded by Spartans that are trying to figure out what to do next.”
We write this piece in support of our fellow Big Ten students. We write this in honor of Brian Fraser, Alexandria Verner and Arielle Anderson as well as those injured — in support of their families, friends, classmates and educators.
But we also write this with anger. With anger for the lives lost and the consistent inaction from our leaders. With anger that the average American is growing numb to the pain of this senseless violence.
How much is too much? How long must we wait until our state and federal governments pass sensible gun legislation? How many more of us have to die?
UW-Madison gun violence and safety
Days after the shooting at MSU, the University of Wisconsin Police Department sent its monthly newsletter “The UWPD Post” with a title that left students feeling uneasy. In the newsletter, the police department urged students to keep the words “run, hide and fight” in mind during an active shooter situation. Despite being helpful information, the subject line was phrased in a way that brought about a sense of dread. Already much-maligned communications between the campus community and the police were further called into question.
The rumblings of gun violence were felt by the campus community last November when shots were fired on the 100 block of State Street, leaving one person injured. There was also a shelter-in-place at the Kohl Center during a men’s basketball game the evening of the shooting, as police searched the nearby area when investigating the incident.
Off-campus alerts were sent out to warn community members about the shooting. While WiscAlerts for on-campus incidents are opt-out, off-campus incident alerts are opt-in, and therein lies the issue. All alerts should be opt-out. Safety should not need opting in.
Furthermore, WiscAlerts and off-campus alerts factor in the location where an incident occurs. Distinct lines divide UWPD and the Madison Police Department’s jurisdiction, and thus also define what areas fall within range for WiscAlerts, off-campus alerts or neither. Areas frequented or heavily populated by students — like the N. Park and Fahrenbrook Ct. area — slip through the cracks. These boundaries should be reconsidered, especially considering the sprawling nature of our campus.
While alerts and boundary redefinitions won’t reduce the likelihood of gun violence, they could help save more lives if such a situation were to arise.
The school shooting generation
After Sandy Hook, when toddlers learning to read and write were massacred under desks so small we could step over them, our politicians were “stunned” and “outraged” but apparently not so much as to reach a compromise to save lives. New problems came up, and they moved on.
And after 17 high schoolers were ripped open by an AR-15 on Valentine’s Day in 2018, our politicians were “shocked” and “distraught.” We “marched for our lives,” walked out of classrooms and organized public protests while they moved on.
And after 19 fourth graders, trying to memorize times tables, were killed in Uvalde, Texas, our leaders were so “stunned” they waited three days before attending the National Rifle Association’s conference in Houston. As we ride this merry-go-round once again, it’s worth asking just how many more times we will have to before they understand: this shouldn’t be normal.
So here we are, the lucky ones. The school shooting generation.
Nothing speaks to this bleak consistency more than the haunting image circling on social media of a student outside a Michigan State vigil in a navy “Oxford Strong” crewneck sweatshirt. The sweatshirts were sold by the community, located 90 minutes from East Lansing, after four high schoolers were killed in a November 2021 shooting.
The frequency of this violence is best highlighted in the accounts of students who have now lived through two school shootings. In the span of 14 months, college freshman Emma Riddle was present at both the Oxford High School shooting and the Michigan State University shooting.
It is a jarring reminder that there are students our age who have experienced this life-shattering catastrophe twice in two years.
Whether it was because of monthly lockdown drills or through the killing of 20 schoolchildren in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, current college students have been aware of school shootings for the majority of their lives.
What seemed like isolated tragedies became an increasing possibility with each passing year of our education. Our generation was marked by frequent and violent gun violence. We grew up watching news screens lit up with the faces of children who — like us — had not imagined becoming a victim at a place that was supposed to protect them.
“Did you hear about that shooting?” became a common line in conversation.
Despite each incident of gun violence being horrific in its own right, desensitization has become a reality for many students. The constant presence of this issue, with virtually zero leeway made in efforts to combat it, has minimized feelings of shock and outrage in our generation.
But as a fellow Big Ten school, the shooting at MSU hit close to home for many UW-Madison students. Direct parallels to elements of our university life highlighted both the gravity of the situation and the immediacy of the gun violence epidemic at large.
The way forward
Gun control has been cast as a political issue, with gun regulation becoming a polarizing concept divisive along party lines. Within the past year, Democratic Michigan legislators attempted to pass a bill to add more extensive background checks and storage requirements on all firearm purchases — a bill that was blocked by Republican legislators in accordance with their party platform. Political obligations are barring legislation reform. That is appalling.
Our policymakers were elected to uplift and protect the wellbeing of their constituents, not cost them their lives in support of party entanglements. As a country, we must stop making gun control political, or the next mass shooting will be innocent blood on our hands.
It is clear that things need to change. School shootings must be put to an end. As the editorial board writing on behalf of The Daily Cardinal, we are not trying to provide the answer to this problem. We do not know what the solution should be, nor do we believe we are qualified to provide the answer. Rather, our aim is to use our platform to stand in support of MSU and offer advice to fellow students.
Until change is made, the disheartening truth is that students must know how to protect themselves. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and have potential escape routes in mind in the event of an emergency. In the presence of an active shooter, look for an exit with ground floor access or remain within a lockable location and barricade the doors.
Ultimately, every day without action is a day where vulnerability persists. It is dreadful that students can not enjoy the simple privilege of feeling safe on their own campus anymore.
Tomorrow it may be yet another campus victim to mass violence. As we mourn with Michigan State University, we implore those in positions of power to actually take action and realize that enough is enough.