A Call to College Students: Prevent Gun Violence

College students have the great privilege of living in relative isolation. Whether nestled in rolling hills or strewn across bustling city streets, college campuses offer students a respite from the demands of normal life.
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College students have the great privilege of living in relative isolation. Whether nestled in rolling hills or strewn across bustling city streets, college campuses offer students a respite from the demands of normal life.

Last week, however, I was reminded how easily that bubble can burst. Colin Goddard, survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre and gun violence prevention activist, took me and other attendees back to 2007. Hundreds of miles from the campus of Brown University, I was reminded what it meant to be part of a community in northern Virginia about to share in a national tragedy. As Goddard shared his story with the students, community members, and other activists in his talk at Brown RISD Hillel, Goddard stood as a living testament to how quickly an unremarkable morning could turn into a nationwide day of mourning and call for action.

Goddard's continued fight reminded me how incredibly frustrating it is for those intimately connected with gun violence--survivors, neighbors, families, friends, colleagues, and otherwise--that despite the promises, rallies, and speeches of supporters, lax laws around the country continue to put Americans at risk. Analyses remind us that even in the face of the unconscionable, we loosen gun legislation. In the year following the shootings at Sandy Hook, 39 laws passed in state legislatures tightened gun laws. Seventy loosened them. Common-sense legislation to prevent gun violence is subverted by talk of freedom, painting activists like Goddard as insensitive liberals. It seems, though, that we fail to understand that an inability to act on access to guns stands to violate the freedom of Americans in other ways. After all, as Everytown for Gun Safety points out, the state of gun legislation on a national and statewide level leaves us 20 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than citizens of other developed nations. It seems that the presence of guns in homes--cast as a means to ward off criminals from entering--actually encourages domestic violence within. In the United States, American women are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun than in peer countries. These data points, of course, become more alarming as we control for race, revealing that African-Americans are twice as likely to be killed by gun violence than white Americans. It seems unclear to me, then, whose freedom we are protecting. The type of legislation advocated by Goddard and other activists, it seems, would leave us all safer and freer to live our lives.

Fortunately, Goddard is joined by Americans from many walks of life. One of the most active groups in advocating for gun violence prevention legislation has been Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, for example. Relatively quiet among national discourse about gun violence, however, are college students. Although college students are often relegated to passive roles in political discourse, Goddard reminded me why students ought to be at the center of this debate. Goddard's connection with gun violence, after all, began on a college campus.

With access to top researchers, funding, and--as Virginia Tech reminds us--the ever-present risk of gun violence, students can play a larger role in debates surrounding gun violence. The National Rifle Association (NRA), after all, has already begun to implement a comprehensive program to enliven its own interests among college campuses. It is time for students to take ownership of their own narrative, and join the fight to enact sensible legislation to prevent gun violence. This could take the form of joining with groups on campus already mobilizing volunteers for political canvassing, or taking trips to local seats of government to share their concern. Lawmakers are aware of the role students can play in the political process: it is important for students to place gun violence prevention among those priorities. National political advocacy groups can serve as partners in conversations on campus.

It is important to note that legislation is not the panacea to gun violence. But, it certainly represents a sensible start. Gun violence--as an issue that can affect a college student at any moment--should be taken seriously by students around the country.

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