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How we can learn from the Michigan shooting to age responsibly

<p>Participants in New York City's March For Our Lives event</p>
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<p>Photo credit: Anna-Alexia Novogratz ’18</p>

Participants in New York City's March For Our Lives event


Photo credit: Anna-Alexia Novogratz ’18

Content Warning: The following column contains descriptions of gun violence in a school setting. Resources can be found at the Everytown Support Fund, which provides support for victims and survivors of gun violence. To speak with Counseling and Psychological Services, please call (609) 258-3141.

Last Tuesday morning, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley killed four of his classmates and severely injured seven others at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan. Crumbley’s gun was gifted to him by his parents, both of whom have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, and subsequently fled the state.

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This tragedy, though horrifying, is unsurprising. In 2021 alone, there have been 28 school shootings; pre-pandemic, there were 24. Although a solipsistic realization, the most troubling outcome of Crumbley’s shooting has been my own dissociation from the incident, which is in part due to the consistency with which I and my peers have been faced with accounts of gun violence throughout our youths.

The presence of gun violence in our nation seems, at this point, static. The unfortunate result of perpetual tragedy is the reduction of public empathy. When a population is faced with incidents of incredible loss that parallel one another so closely — like those at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, now Oxford, and many others — there is less reason to feel invested in the mitigation of said losses because they become so familiar.

It is also depressing to think about the inefficacy of gun reform that has been passed thus far. In March of 2021, Congress approved the expansion of background checks for the purchase of guns, intensifying vetting processes and addressing loopholes in existing gun laws. Though seemingly promising, mentally unstable teenagers like Crumbley still manage to get their hands on lethal weapons.

Initially, I blamed the lack of discourse surrounding the Oxford shooting on the limited improvements to gun restrictions. Upon reflection, however, it has become clear that disillusionment alone can not explain, nor excuse, my and my peers’ detachment from Crumbley’s crime. When I was in high school, March for Our Lives protests were flooded with individuals my age. We could have been “disillusioned” then, but chose to retain our conviction for reform.

The waning sense of urgency in regards to the threat of gun violence is therefore simply a result of aging. In college, the possibility of falling victim to a school shooter is more hypothetical — security protocols are more regimented, and the frequency with which university students are the targets of mass shootings is less than that of high school and elementary school students. We as undergraduates are now entering the demographic of Americans who are able to remove themselves from the trauma of gun violence. We are no longer K-12 students, and are therefore no longer the most common targets of perpetrators like Crumbley, and we are not yet parents of children who would fall into this demographic. We are both too young and too old to find ourselves equipped with the necessary sense of urgency regarding the prevention of shootings like the one we witnessed in Michigan, derived from our comparatively low susceptibility to similar acts of violence.

As we grow up, we face the challenge of retaining a sense of involvement in issues whose immediate effects we have outgrown. This is immensely difficult, but it is one that we as Princeton students can, and must, work to achieve. We must age responsibly and not let the apathy of adulthood pervade our commitment to protecting the next generation of Americans; this is a commitment that may take form in attending more gun control rallies, engaging with local politicians in support of gun reform, or simply maintaining our rage at the continuity of gun violence in our country and empathy for its young victims.

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Andi Grene is a sophomore from New York City. She can be reached at agrene@princeton.edu.

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