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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Monday’s tragedy is a sobering reminder about gun violence

Bell Tower 0829 Reilly

Bouquets of flowers lay at the base of the Bell Tower on Tuesday, August 29. 

TW: This article mentions gun violence and death. 

On Monday, not even two full weeks into the fall semester, our University was put on lockdown under the threat of an active shooter. This tragedy, which ended with the death of a faculty member, is a sobering reminder of the prevalence of gun violence in our country. 

I was home after a morning meeting on campus when the alerts about sheltering in place were sent out. My phone lit up with calls and text messages from concerned family and friends worried about my safety. I, too, was frantically reaching out to my friends and graduate student colleagues who were teaching, in class or in our grad office. I heard about barricaded classrooms, frightened students and conflicting reports on the status of the shooter. 

While this is the first time I have ever been in this situation, it is, unfortunately, very familiar to so many across the United States.

In 2019, two students were killed and four injured when a gunman opened fire in a classroom at UNC Charlotte. The next year, a report of an armed individual near UNC-Chapel Hill triggered campuswide emergency protocol, though that report was determined to be false. These instances are among increased cases of gun-related violence in Chapel Hill and numerous acts that have occurred in other states. 

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been over 28,000 deaths by various forms of gun violence in 2023 thus far. Nearly half of these are categorized as homicide, murder, unintentional or defensive gun use. These statistics — and the people behind them — are just a fraction of a longer history and pattern of immense death and loss that spans decades. 

These acts of violence have happened everywhere, with various motivations. Locations include churches, restaurants, supermarkets and clubs. Just this past weekend, a gunman in Jacksonville, Fla., opened fire in a Dollar General. It seems there is no place untouched by this tragedy.

Gun violence has become a seemingly permanent fixture in our everyday lives, and our flagship University is no different. The history of gun violence in American schools is too devastating to reproduce. We grew up hearing about Columbine, and the list of school shootings only increases every year. 

Worse yet, many children who survived or were the same age as the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, one of the deadliest in the nation’s history, are now in college — only to face the same kind of debilitating fear once again. This cannot be what students’ parents had in mind when they dropped them off in Chapel Hill earlier this month.

Despite these alarming statistics and decades of harm, both federal and state regulations and gun laws remain stagnant. Earlier this year, North Carolina lawmakers debated over the N.C. Constitutional Carry Act, which would’ve allowed individuals to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Though it was removed by House Speaker Tim Moore, the fact that this legislation was introduced and supported demonstrates a dismissal of the continuous outcry for more strict gun control — including the student-led March For Our Lives movement on our campus. 

I’m finding myself stuck on how quotidian gun violence has become, how little is being done to prevent it and how we are expected to move forward. 

Because these incidents occur so frequently, we can become desensitized and numb to them – even when they're so close to home. We often want to resume a “normal” after such occurrences, but how can we when there has just been so much loss? How much time is enough?

While I’m sure the shooting will spark local and national headlines on gun laws and gun control, I have little faith that anything will come out of it. The investigation will make clear how much gun laws, or the lack thereof, shaped the destructive actions that took place this week. 

Nevertheless, the news media will move on like they always have, until there is another incident that is perhaps more grave and calamitous, as there always seems to be. And — on cue — the cycle will continue once again with similar cries for change. I know I sound cynical, but I promise I hope to be wrong. 

What is most important for us now is figuring out what comes next. How do we grapple with the feeling of never-ending violence? How do we rebuild trust in our community? How do we actually address the impact that years of compounded violence have had on us? 

These are questions I ask myself as not only a community member but an instructor who has the responsibility to show up for students. None of these questions can be resolved this week, this month or even this semester. What do we do in the meantime?

The events of Monday remind us that violence is never too far away. My wish is that in its wake, we find a real and impactful way to get through it together. 

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