It’s a frustration that has echoed across campus in recent days, as students grapple with the role of gun violence in their lives. Many were in middle school when 20 elementary school students were murdered at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn. They were in high school when a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla.
Now, they say, after a childhood of lockdown drills and reports of violence, they want change. “We were born into this,” Jo Kovach, the student body president, said at a gun-control protest outside the Michigan Capitol. “We just want action.”
But students are split on what that looks like, debating questions of “gun-free zones” and arming teachers in conversations, group chats and social media feeds.
Much of this dialogue is playing out on Yik Yak, an anonymous, location-based social media app often used on college campuses. In the hours and days after the shooting, dozens of users argued that armed students or faculty would have stopped the shooter. After the Rock, an MSU landmark constantly repainted with messages, was colored with a pro-gun message — “Allow us to defend ourselves & carry on campus” — there was a flurry of posts.
“Gun free zones are the most unsafe places in this country,” one user wrote Wednesday morning. “That’s what the rock’s current message is getting at. Let us carry to protect ourselves and you.”
“Police are minutes away when seconds count,” another wrote.
“Ya know, we want a safe school too … just different ways of solving the problem,” said another.
Caleb Watson, a member of the MSU College Republicans, said he knows why some might want faculty to have concealed carry permits for guns. He also understands why people own guns — both of his parents have concealed carry permits.
But, he said, he wants them as far away from campus as possible.
Fourteen months ago, his brother Aiden Watson, then 15, was injured in a school shooting at Oxford High School. It was a horrible time for Caleb’s family and community, filled with hospital visits and funerals.
On Monday, Caleb flashed back to the moment he found out about his brother’s incident. And while Caleb hid, hoping his family wouldn’t have to suffer through another gun injury, he had an awakening.
“In that moment, I said enough is enough. It’s time to stand up for this,” he said. “It’s time to be more vocal about this.”
He’s still figuring out what that means. He believes in the Second Amendment, but wants more limits across his state, so that gun ownership is restricted to people who are “mentally stable, law-abiding and responsible.” He isn’t sure how to measure that, though.
The MSU College Republicans don’t have an official stance on guns and gun control, Watson said. They all want more safety on campus, whether that means locking all school buildings or having more security officers. Some want professors to have guns, while others aren’t so sure. It’s an ongoing debate, but Watson feels firmer now than he did before.
At the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday, student speakers echoed Caleb’s sentiments, speaking about the trauma their generation has endured over the last 20 years. Some evoked Sandy Hook, recounting being told to sit “crisscross applesauce” at 9 or 10 years old before parents or teachers explained that kids younger than them had been killed.
At Wednesday’s event, they sat in the cold for over an hour in vertical lines with their legs crossed, just as they had as kids. Many at the rally said they feared another shooting at the vigil later Wednesday night, or at one of the few open dining halls, or when classes resumed.
When a nearby construction machine made a loud bang, dozens visibly jumped, worried it was a gunshot.
That theme has rippled across campus this week.
Frank Falzetta, a 21-year-old junior, spent Monday night barricaded in his off-campus apartment with his roommates. He was terrified, but as the hours passed, another feeling set in: fury.
“I just feel angry that things like this happen all the time,” said Falzetta, who studies political science and has studied the influence of the National Rifle Association. “When you’re in the middle of something like this and you know the inner workings of the political aspects, you’re mad as hell.”
On Tuesday, Falzetta and his friends brought flowers to a makeshift memorial at the Rock. He wasn’t hopeful that the shooting would inspire political change.
“I am deeply angered that current gun legislation was not enough to stop the gunman from killing my fellow students, and I am deeply angered that many politicians will stand by and selfishly let this happen over and over again because of the money they receive from gun lobbyists and the NRA,” he said.
For Paige Lawson, a 19-year-old from Rochester, Mich., the violence is generational.
Years before Lawson was born, her mother, Kathleen, lived in Colorado across the street from Columbine High School, where 12 students and a teacher were killed. Lawson was in Florida five years ago when the Parkland shooting happened. As a freshman, she was getting settled into her life at MSU when friends at Oxford High huddled into classrooms.
It never felt like one could happen on campus, though, where her family had built a community. It was always a safe place. Then it wasn’t.
She happened to be driving around campus from 8:18 p.m. to 8:27 p.m. Monday night on her way to her apartment. When she walked in the door, she saw the school’s email reporting the shooting. She quickly called her friends who lived in the area and stayed on, silently, for the rest of the night.
She hopes this time actually is different because of a Democratic majority in the state legislature. But with her mom next to her, a stark reminder of years of inaction, she is pessimistic.
Other students, too, said the shooting has punctured their sense of safety on campus. Miselo Chola, a junior and friend of one of the victims, feared what might happen when the news cameras leave her campus and the spotlight fades — she wants change, she said.
“People have the outrage and they forget, that’s why these things continue,” Chola said. “So what makes it right for it to just be forgotten about after a week or two when everything’s back to so-called normal? It’s never going to be normal again.”
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