Op-ed submission: On last week’s shooting, and how to move forward

Robert Mark Morgan | Senior Lecturer

I am a faculty member and a father. An artist and an activist. A husband and a son.

In the wake of last week’s shooting, I have heard a lot from students about preparedness on the part of Washington University, communication to students and staff from emergency personnel, varied reactions by professors who were in class when the safety warnings were issued and protections in place to help prevent another situation like it. Thankfully, the University acknowledges these issues and has already begun to improve on all levels.

What I find somewhat overlooked are reactions from students about what they can DO about the larger issue of gun violence, and I find the reason may be more cultural and societal in size and scope—engrained in our American DNA.

Sadly, the preponderance of guns in our society is assumed to be a foregone conclusion, a reality we are forced to accept and a starting point from where we begin to respond.
And we give young people every reason to believe that reality. In many cases, students today and my own children have been raised with “active shooter drill” training in grade school the same way I went through tornado drills when I was a boy growing up in central Texas. But why? Are the two similar? Should we treat campus shootings the same way we treat uncontrollable natural disasters? Have we given up on curbing gun violence on a societal level and turned to just protecting ourselves within our gated communities—and our gated universities?

In the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn. that garnered so much attention from all corners of our country, we seemed to have reached a tipping point towards some kind of common sense regulation and legislation to combat the issue.

But nothing happened.

After Sandy Hook, the National Rifle Association (NRA) issued a statement delivered by Wayne LaPierre himself that the only answer to the problem was more guns and not less.

Despite support from 92 percent of Americans, 82 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members for universal background checks, the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey Background Check failed to pass in 2013.

Despite outcries in opposition from statewide university leaders, police officers and campus safety personnel, the Missouri State Legislature continues to push bills that would make guns more accessible (not less) on college campuses and mandate that both public and private universities comply with the law.

Our country is awash in guns on an average of at least one per every man, woman and child. Statistics indicate that the U.S. leads the entire world in number of guns per 100 people (112 guns per 100 people).

Despite 88 deaths from gun violence each day, it is demonstrably easier to buy a gun in the U.S. than it is to buy Sudafed.

Chancellor Wrighton highlighted the issue very plainly in his letter to the University community following the shooting last week: “But our experience this week is a sad reminder that we are not entirely immune from the societal epidemic of gun violence. It can take place anywhere at anytime.”

One thing I admire about my beloved Wash. U. students is that virtually all of them never question their ability to affect change, to challenge the status quo and to pressure a society to move forward. So do you want to know what you can do to change this particular equation?

Start a student group that addresses gun violence. One does not currently exist…I’ve checked. As a model, you might emulate the one co-founded by the daughter of a Sandy Hook survivor at Georgetown University.

You have your faculty sponsor right here.

The University has just concluded a yearlong initiative to address gun violence as a public health crisis. Educate yourself! Events related to the issue continue to be posted online.

Talk to your peers about gun violence. I would bet that many of your friends may be gun violence survivors themselves.

Vote in every election, including state and local elections, as those often have more impact on your daily life than federal elections. Find out which of your legislators (no matter where you live) are taking a stand against it and offering proposals on how to limit the threat.

As helicopters were flying overhead last week and police were rushing to the scene of the shooting on Forsyth Boulevard, one Yik Yak from one of you stated plainly: “And that is how you burst the Wash. U. bubble.”

We know what we did then and how we can improve the preparation, reaction and response to the next incident. The larger question, as I see it, is what do you do now? Can the horrifying events of last week be turned into a positive call to action this week?

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