Students React: Gun Violence on College Campuses

Arden West, Co-News Editor

“Secure-in-Place immediately. Run, Hide, Fight.” These were instructions in an alert issued to Michigan State University by the police late last Monday night—instructions that every student fears. 

Last week, on February 13, a gunman opened fire at Michigan State University (MSU), killing three students and critically injuring five more. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a confrontation with law enforcement. Both of the shooter’s guns were legally purchased.

Students have spent the past week coming to terms with the tragedy that took place on their campus and are grieving together. Flocking to two iconic campus spots, people have covered what’s known as “The Rock” and the “Sparty” statue in flowers as they paid their respects. Online tributes to the three students have quickly gone viral as they communicate how bright, kind and loved these people were and how even just one human can be integral to a community. 

However, it is not just the Spartan community that reckons with this immeasurable loss, it’s the entire nation. President Biden called for legislative gun reform, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer spoke at MSU and numerous corporations, organizations and nonprofits put out statements of solidarity. But the shooting’s impact is felt most deeply in a different world—the college community. 

“The Rock” is a boulder that has been at the school since 1873 and was the location of the MSU vigil this past Wednesday night. It is the very same spot where a vigil was held for the victims of the Oxford High School shooting that took the lives of four, just a little more than a year ago.

“How many more?” demands the clear message that sprawls across “The Rock.” 

It is a question that many asked themselves as it came to light that multiple Michigan State students have now experienced two or more school shootings in their lifetimes. A horrifying sense of familiarity rippled through some in that very crowd at the vigil as they remembered their similar experiences just years or months earlier. 

“That’s the chilling part,” a sophomore who wished to keep themself anonymous said. “Shootings have become all too common in our lives and it’s terrifying. It’s like we as teenagers and young adults are already desensitized [to extreme violence].”

Alongside the greater college community, Villanova has grieved the loss of these students and the topic of gun violence has once again been raised in nearly every classroom and hall as the news spread across campus. 

“It touches college students a lot because the victims could have been our classmates or our friends or us and I think a lot of us realize that,” student Katherine Hoerle said. “Villanova can feel like the safest place on earth because we live in such a bubble, but after hearing about incidents like that [at MSU], it can feel much scarier because these things can happen anywhere.”

It became clear almost immediately that Villanova is not immune to these issues, as just the following day, on February 14, a shelter-in-place was issued through Nova Alert as the police received a report of a robbery with a firearm on the R100 Commuter Train that passes through our campus. 

“I was in the library when it was barricaded shut on Tuesday night, and it was pretty scary,” freshman Caroline Hisler said. “We had no idea what was going on until someone in Falvey announced out of nowhere that there was a man on campus with a gun.”

“I called my mom and stayed on the phone with her for a while. She was freaking out, I mean, rightly so.”

“There was a complete lack of information for us and that was what was scary,” Gracie Iannaccone added. 

While we are immensely lucky that the situation did not escalate in magnitude or danger, many students mentioned how overwhelming it was and how they feared that it was more serious than it ended up being, especially with the shadow of the MSU shooting just hours before. 

Clearly, there is a problem with gun violence in our country and on college campuses, yet Americans differ on how to deal with the issue, mainly because they do not agree on what the root cause is.

“I know that we can’t control [every person], and this is why I have always believed in stricter gun control laws in our country,” an anonymous student said. “Without such destructive guns, these incidents would not occur the same way and so many lives would be saved. If we can’t control the people, we need to control the weapons.”

Max Sallee, former President of the Villanova Republican Club, has contrasting views. 

“As long as people make this a debate about guns, nothing will change,” he said. “The real issue is twofold: the man on our campus had prior felony convictions; he shouldn’t have a gun in the first place. Since he does, it shows he does not respect the justice system. The solution is not with new laws that make it harder for ordinary people to own guns. All we have to do is uphold the laws we have and punish people when they commit crimes.”

“With regards to the MSU shooter, it shows yet another example of severe mental illness going untreated and leading to tragedies,” Sallee said.

The challenge for our country is to find a way forward. No one wants to take responsibility and yet everyone should. Until we all understand our role in this crisis, the problem will never end. 

“The Rock” at MSU was surrounded by signs painted by mourners. 

“We are stronger than this act of hatred. We are family. Be there for each other. Rest in peace to those innocent souls,” one sign read. “This must not define us, but it must inspire us because something needs to change.”