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When Hashtags Follow Gun Violence

March 23, 2018 Scott Peska Waubonsee Community College

Over the last 10 years, we have seen many celebrations, including the first-African American President elected in the United States, the pageantry of a British royal wedding, and even my Cubbies winning a World Series.  However, we have also seen seven of the 10 deadliest mass shootings experienced in the U.S., which took place in our churches, our classrooms, our communities and our colleges. 



Since the deadly and senseless mass shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL this past February, these two hashtags were commonly found in tweets, social media posts, and on protest signs.  However, after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in December 2012, we learned that hashtags, thoughts, and prayers are not enough. 

If we want to see change, we need to take action.

That is exactly what the young survivors and their classmates around the world are showing us. They showed us when thousands left their classrooms during the March 14, 2018 Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, National School Walkout.  They will show us at the “March For Our Lives” marches taking place on March 24, 2018 in Washington DC and many other cities throughout the U.S. They will show us again during another National School Walkout being planned for April 20, 2018, marking 20 years since the Columbine school shootings. It is clear that today’s youth are exercising their first amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly to demand changes to our second amendment right to bear arms.

Uniquely, today’s high school students have grown up witnessing a barrage of deadly mass shootings unlike any generation previously. Prior to the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, the deadliest mass shooting was sixteen years earlier in 1991 in Killeen, TX.  Since then we have seen the deadliest mass shooting change from the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 to the Orlando Pulse Night Club shootings in 2016 and yet again to the Las Vegas Concert shootings in 2017.  We have witnessed that six out of the 10 deadliest mass shootings used a similar type of semi-automatic weapon: the AR-15, which was invented in 1958 to be used in the Vietnam War as a weapon specifically for mass killing. Today, it is being used as a weapon of mass killing with little to no restriction. 

Today’s students might think we, as a society, are becoming numb and desensitized as we watch active shootings unfold on the news and on social media. This generation is aware that too many of their peers have easy access to guns. They know that over half of the guns used in shootings in K12 schools were obtained legally by students or were acquired from their home or the home of a relative. They seem fed up active-shooter training and are demanding to learn how to protest peacefully to require our lawmakers to create sensible laws to help reduce this growing gun violence.  This year it seems not a week can go by without a news story about another shooting.  As I write this post, we are still learning details about a shooting at a high school in Maryland on March 20, 2018.     

The NASPA Enough is Enough Campaign Against Gun Violence was created 10 years ago after the late Dr. Zenobia Lawrence Hikes, then Vice President of Student Affairs at Virginia Tech, gave the closing address to the NASPA Annual Conference in Boston in 2008. Her speech called on student affairs practitioners to heed this warning and, with a fierce urgency, stem the tide of this growing societal violence.  

Once again, we must renew our commitment and support to our future students whom are acting with a fierce urgency and demanding changes in our laws.  For example, they seek to raise the legal age to purchase guns from 18 to 21, establish a stronger universal background check system, and ban the sale of some semiautomatic weapons, the sale of extended magazines, or accessories and modifications that make these guns fire like automatic assault weapons.  They are making progress with the Florida Gun Bill that was passed and signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.  However, this bill leaves much to be decided at the federal level. 

In place of any hashtags, here are a few things you can do to support our students.

I implore you to consider helping us by taking one or more of these actions.  

This post started with the last decade, and 10 years ago I worked on the campus of Northern Illinois University when a mass shooting took place on February 14, 2008 that left five dead, 18 injured with gunshot wounds, and countless others directly impacted.  Within the hour there were three or four news helicopters overhead; that sound today still is an emotional cue for me.  A month after the shooting I was asked to lead an office to provide support to this unique population of student survivors and the families of the deceased as we tried to move forward as a campus and community.  Forward, Together Forward became a defining mantra taken from NIU’s fight song and it holds special meaning to all of us affiliated with NIU during that time.  Every year, on the date and time of the shootings, the student survivors and the families come back to campus to a Memorial Garden to remember and pay tribute to those we lost. Many of us were gathered together when the news broke about the Parkland, FL shootings. It is difficult to describe the emotional toil that this group experiences every mass shooting that has taken place since 2008, let alone one taking place on the same day and nearly the exact same time.  So I ask you again, will you heed the warning Dr. Hikes shared with us a decade ago, will you stand in unity with our future students who are demanding changes to our laws, and will you do a part to help reduce gun violence on your campus and in your communities? 

The Enough is Enough Campaign Against Gun Violence is affiliated with the Campus Safety Knowledge Community.  Visit our page if you have a desire to join us!

(Photo courtesy of NIU Creative Services, 2018.)