“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges tweeted in 2015. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
Eight years later, the British columnist’s tweet still proves eerily prescient. In 2023 alone — in 46 days — there have been 71 mass shootings in the United States.
Two days ago, Michigan State University became the latest epicenter of shattering violence and sorrow, the most recent place of learning, community and joy suddenly awash in red-and-blue lights.
As fellow college students, we are haunted by the stories of young adults stampeding out of the student union, barricading themselves in dormitories and listening to bullets ricochet through their classroom.
As fellow humans, we are heartbroken — and furious — that the three vibrant, hardworking, beloved students were killed: Arielle Anderson, Alexandria Verner and Brian Fraser.
As Americans, we’re devastatingly used to it.
Generation Z has grown up surrounded and even shaped by the culture of gun worship — and death — in the United States. We have never known a world not marred by lockdown drills, memorials for dead children and the ever-present adage of “thoughts and prayers” as our fellow citizens are murdered at music festivals, in church and, over and over again, in schools.
Several students at Michigan State University were also present at the Oxford High School shooting, which claimed four lives in 2021. Another MSU student survived the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting as a child, wherein six teachers and 20 first-graders died on a quiet December day.
Monday’s MSU shooting also took place just one day before the fifth anniversary of the Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, in which seventeen students and teachers were murdered.
Today, MSU students took to the Michigan state Capitol to protest the lax gun laws that characterize this country, sitting in the lockdown drill positions that all American schoolchildren are taught. A nation where children are used to hiding from mass shooters and trained in the best ways to — maybe — save their life, a country where lockdown drills are as typical as fire drills, is a nation in serious, maybe unsalvageable, decay.
There are too many names. There are too many pictures of gap-toothed, chubby children or beaming, vivacious teenagers, now gone forever. Grief, hopeless and unending grief, is steeped into the fabric of America.
Fear is too. We remember being the same age as the Sandy Hook victims and seeing kids who could’ve been our classmates on television, and then slowly learning that those kids were just murdered. As we near adulthood, it is terrifying to imagine sending our children into American schools, knowing what could await them in a place that should be warm and comforting and safe.
It’s hard not to feel like we’re shouting into a void.
We march, we wave signs, we cry, we plead with politicians, we vote, we sit-in, we post on social media. We do everything we’re supposed to do and guns still win.
As journalists, we write stories, again and again, constantly memorializing Americans who could’ve been our friends, our siblings, ourselves. We debate if our voices matter anymore — what difference can we make when our politicians, the most powerful people in this country, still proudly wear AR-15 pins on their lapels?
We don’t want to strip away American freedoms or burn the Constitution. We just want to survive the school day.
But many won’t as we keep waiting for the American government to slowly support common-sense gun control. A full-generation shift is likely necessary, until the halls of local, state and national government are filled with politicians who were once also kids hiding in school closets, startling at every loud noise in a public place or mourning shot classmates.
It’s not normal to feel numb when hearing about Arielle, Alexandria, Brian and the five MSU students fighting for their lives in the hospital. They should still be alive, still groaning about essays, eating gross dining hall food and preparing for exciting, meaningful adult lives. The whole world is worse off for their deaths.
Immediately after the Michigan State tragedy, their campus “Rock” was painted with “How many more?” A few hours later, it was repainted “Allow us to defend ourselves & carry on campus.” It now reads “to those we lost, to those healing, Brian, Arielle, Alexandria.”
So the debate will continue. And more kids will die.
This editorial was written by Opinion Editor Caroline McCord.