Content Warning: The following article contains mention of death, suicide, and gun violence. To speak with Counseling and Psychological Services, please call (609) 258-3141.
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On May 24, 2022, 19 children and two teachers were shot dead in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The names of the children are Layla Salazar, Tess Mata, Alithia Ramirez, Uziyah Garcia, Makenna Lee Elrod, Jailah Nicole Silguero, Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, Rojelio Torres, Annabell Rodriguez, Jacklyn Jaylen Cazares, Eliahna Torres, Amerie Jo Garza, Xavier James Lopez, Nevaeh Bravo, Ellie Garcia, Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, Maite Rodriguez, Maranda Mathis, and Jose Flores. Some of them attended an honor roll awards ceremony celebrating their academic successes just two hours before a gunman entered their classroom. All of them were fourth graders, no more than 11 years old, whose futures were extinguished by bullets.
Just one week earlier, 13 people were injured — 10 fatally — when a racist, white supremacist gunman opened fire on a predominantly Black-serving grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y. The next day, on the other side of the country, one person was killed and five others were injured when a gunman attacked a lunch banquet in a Taiwanese church in California. In each of these mass shootings, anti-Black and political hatred, respectively, were at the forefront of the violence. Innocent people were murdered because hatred was armed and eager to inflict mass harm. They were completely unaware of what would occur in the moments to come — because who would expect to spend their last moments shopping or attending church?
Last week, while we were writing an email to the student body with action steps for getting involved in the fight against gun violence and resources to preserve our mental health in the process, four people were killed and several others were injured at a medical building in Tulsa, Okla. That same week, at least 17 people were killed and 62 injured in a flurry of 11 mass shootings throughout Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, Michigan, and New York. These include teenagers at a high school graduation party (South Carolina and Texas), pedestrians standing at an intersection (Michigan and Pennsylvania), and shoppers at a mall (Arizona). Above all, they were innocent bystanders who were unfortunate victims of the gun violence epidemic.
Veronica Mata, the mother of 10-year-old Tess Mata who was killed in Uvalde, spoke for many of us when she said: “Every time we would see another mass shooting on the news we would say, ‘that won’t happen here … that could never happen here.’” Some may think gun violence is sporadic, an unfortunate tragedy that randomly strikes, but gun violence is everywhere. It is in our schools, malls, parks, movie theaters, streets, and our homes.
For every major stage of life our generation has gone through, there has been a catastrophic mass shooting to accompany: Sandy Hook in elementary school, Pulse and Marjory Stoneman Douglas in high school, and now, Uvalde and Buffalo in college. Every one of our milestones is a celebration, while families across the country grieve the children who were never able to graduate with us.
This does not even account for the everyday gun violence that escapes media attention because the death and injury statistics seem too inconsequential to grab the public’s attention. In 2020, while most of us were focused on the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an accompanying increase in gun violence, with the greatest recorded number of Americans dying from gun-related injuries. The majority of these deaths were gun-inflicted suicides. Moreover, mass shootings only comprise a small percentage of gun murders nationwide. While mass shooting incidents capture our attention, occasionally reminding us that gun violence is a frustratingly destructive phenomenon with the potential to tear apart entire communities, the majority of the damage is happening every single day, away from the cameras.
We cannot and must not continue to ignore gun violence. If we are to imagine a more just and equitable world, then we must begin by disarming hate and finally addressing gun violence. As young people in the United States, every major issue of our time — racial justice, police brutality, climate change, LGBTQ+ rights and visibility, mental health and healthcare access — is inextricably linked to gun violence. Addressing gun violence requires that we recognize how systemic racism and abusive policing have disadvantaged Black and Brown communities and made them more susceptible to gun violence, how discriminatory housing policies that situate lower-income neighborhoods near polluted waste sites increase susceptibility to gun violence, how guns facilitate violent hatred towards identity groups, and how they often represent ‘easier alternatives’ to receiving mental health treatment. Progress towards addressing any of these issues must be accompanied by policies to reduce gun violence. Inaction is unacceptable.
We must take our grief, frustration, anger, and heartbreak to make measurable change. We cannot give up. Over and over again, we see the same cycle repeat where a mass shooting claims the lives of innocent people, the news focuses on the tragedy and the “hot-button topic” of gun violence for a week or so, then the discussion dies off. We cannot let our passion die down. We cannot let this movement rise and fall with the frequency of headlines. The need for change must win out against our tendencies to turn the page on tragedy.
On Saturday, June 11, Princeton University students in Washington, D.C. will be joining March For Our Lives in protesting for gun control. There will be a sister march in Princeton and in communities near you nationwide. Join us in marching for change.
This November, those of us who are eligible to vote will have the opportunity to elect representatives to Congress who can finally begin to legislate change on a national level, as well as local elected officials who can do the same in our communities. Some common sense gun control legislation includes universal background checks, national red flag laws, and a ban on semi-automatic weapons. Change begins at the ballot box, but that is not enough. We must not end our momentum there but instead continue to advocate tirelessly for an end to gun violence. For more information on what you can do to be part of the movement for gun violence prevention, check out Princeton Against Gun Violence’s website and Instagram for quick actions and/or join our organization. For the more than 19,000 people who, according to the Gun Violence Archive, have lost their lives to gun violence in 2022 alone, for the kids who have died at their desks, and for those who continue to die every day, we must all fight to enact change.
Ana Blanco is a rising senior from Miami, Fla. concentrating in the School of Public and International Affairs. She is co-president of Princeton Against Gun Violence. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julia Elman is a rising senior from Arlington, Va. concentrating in the School of Public and International Affairs. She is co-president of Princeton Against Gun Violence. You can reach her at email@example.com.