As fall approaches, schools across the country open their doors for students buzzing about their summer vacations, new friends and forgotten summer reading assignments. Department stores advertise “Back to School!” promotions, and freshman college students prepare for their next big adventures. However, students aren’t just riddled with the typical “back to school” anxiety — but the fear that a new school year will also bring a new string of mass shootings.
It’s been a year and a half since a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, survivors organized “March for Our Lives”, a nationwide call to end mass shootings. Youth activists continue to change the conversation around gun control — but have yet to see an end to gun violence in schools, including college campuses.
There were 190 college campus shooting incidents between fall 2001 and spring 2016 in which 437 people were shot, according to a 2016 study. Earlier this year, a gunman opened fire on the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus, reminding college students nationwide that the threat of mass shootings on campus is only too real.
When school let out in the spring, students were temporarily released from active shooter drills in the classroom — but summer brought no relief from gun-related tragedies. On Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and injuring dozens of others. The next day, a mass shooting was carried out in Dayton, Ohio. Nine people died, and 27 others were injured. Now, as students head back to school, school shooting–related worries return, and many parents find themselves wondering if their children are safe. Since the August shootings, the sale of bulletproof backpacks has increased over 200%.
After the tragedies, President Donald Trump issued statements that claimed mass shootings are a mental health issue rather than a result of inadequate gun control. This attitude, echoed by many right-wing lawmakers, is extremely dangerous. It promotes misconceptions about the realities of gun violence and mental health and creates a culture that excuses dangerous, erratic behavior. Comprehensive measures like stronger background checks and consistent gun safety–related conversations among lawmakers are absolutely necessary to minimize violence and prevent tragedy moving forward.
Across the country, students, parents and activists continue to advocate against gun violence in schools and promote safety in the midst of a culture plagued with mass shootings. On Aug. 21, a group of students from Parkland proposed a package of gun control measures that aim to halve the rate of gun deaths in the coming decade. The package is called a “Peace Plan for a Safer America,” and it presents a six-part plan to address gun violence throughout the country. Parkland students’ efforts to hold politicians accountable and end the deadly epidemic of gun violence are praiseworthy — and we should take note. As college students, and as human beings, we have a responsibility to call for an end to anger-driven violence against those in our own communities and nationwide.