In the last 16 days, I’ve started college and my brother has been in two lockdowns

In the last 16 days, I have called my brother to ensure he hasn’t been shot. Twice.

I go to Duke and my brother goes to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Rivalry aside, I have always felt strongly affiliated with the UNC community. That being said, this community of students that I adore — my family and best friends — have become victims to not one, but two threats of gun violence in the past three weeks. The first display of violence left a faculty member dead. The second, occurring only hours ago, reaffirms one vital message I urge you to consider: gun violence has waged war on our neighbors and it is time to stand in solidarity with our UNC family to fight for gun reform.

It was Aug. 28, and I was making my trek to statistics with an unbridled excitement brewing in me. This day marked the event I had eagerly anticipated for years: my first day of college. Halfway through class, the glow of my computer screen illuminated my face, and I could feel my attention wavering as I struggled through my first attempt at coding. Desperately searching for relief from my statistics-derived confusion, I was thankful to hear the sound of a text notification on my phone. Half-expecting to read a text from my mom checking in on me on my first day, I was shocked into silence by the ominous blue message enveloping my screen and the words it delivered:

“There are multiple shooters on campus, and I’m locked in a classroom with the door barricaded. They sent out an update saying that the suspect is at large right now.”

As my eyes grazed over these words repeatedly, trying to grasp their gravity, any semblance of my attention that was previously directed toward work vanished. My fingers rushed across the screen, typing a response to my brother and messages to my friends to verify their safety. However, after the original shock from the text wore off, and I awaited a response from my friends and family, my astonishment was replaced with a new feeling: a fear of the unknown. 

Fear for my brother’s life. Fear for my friends’ lives. Fear that the closest people to me in the world would become just another statistic on a Joe Biden Instagram infographic saying, “We need to do something about gun violence.”

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. My brother and friends are okay. However, that doesn’t change the facts: Gun violence was inflicted upon our neighbors, someone died and nothing is going to change if the law stays the same.

Hailing from a high school where gun threats were common and a country with more than 400 mass shootings in the last nine months, I admit that I have become desensitized to gun violence to some extent. Whether out of fear or even denial of the dire state of affairs, many of us fall victim to optimism bias by adopting the “it won’t happen to me” mentality. We move on with our days every time another display of gun violence occurs. That being said, it is difficult to express in words how quickly you snap out of this mindset when ‘it’ does, in fact, happen to you. Or, in my case, to my brother, who was locked in a dark classroom, and my best friends, who were trapped in the confines of their dorm rooms for hours.

Fearing for your own life or the life of a loved one is possibly one of the most terrifying feelings you will never want to experience. While I genuinely hope no one reading this ever has to confront that fear, the reality is that there is a high chance that you will. Unless legislation changes, mass shootings will continue to occur, and at some point in your life, you might land in the shoes of a victim or victim-adjacent to gun violence. 

In 2021, 689 mass shootings occurred in the United States. In 2022, the number was 645. Now, in the ninth month of 2023, we are nearing 500 mass shootings, and, to be quite blunt, there will be more. Gun laws are weak, especially in red states with 2nd amendment-supporting legislators, and it is no secret that weaker gun laws directly correlate with higher homicide rates and numbers of mass shootings. In this country with the highest civilian gun ownership in the world — nearly 90 guns owned per 100 people — gun violence is inevitable without restrictive legislation.

This is why gun control — legislation that prevents individuals from easily obtaining guns — is necessary. It’s time for Duke to support its sister school and fight for gun reform together.

Here is what has been done and how you can get involved:

Two days after the shooting at UNC and the murder of Professor Zijie Yan, nearly 600 UNC students joined together in protest against gun violence. Entitled “Students Rally Against Gun Violence,” this protest featured hundreds of students standing in solidarity for stricter gun laws. Last week, Duke hosted a vigil in remembrance of Professor Yan and out of respect for the UNC community. On Sept. 12, Duke, UNC and NC State students rejected their usual rivalry and joined together outside the NC General Assembly in a powerful show of unity against gun violence. 

Now, it’s your turn: Whether you have friends and family at UNC or not, I urge you to recognize the injustice brought upon our neighbors just two weeks ago. Gun violence has become far too common for us to keep seeking blind comfort in the “it won’t happen to me” mentality. Ignorance is not bliss when people are dying in masses across the country.

Whether it be at our rival school, an elementary school in our hometowns or somewhere across the country, gun violence is alive and well and a threat to every one of us. If you aren’t joining or starting protests against gun violence, writing to your legislators, fighting for a change in law, or doing the bare minimum by voting for gun reform-supporting legislators, you are part of the problem.

UNC students don't have to be your family like they are mine. You can still argue over sports. You can still debate which blue is better. But you should recognize one thing: Gun violence is at our doorstep. While the news will move on and this will be reduced to “just another school shooting,” it is our responsibility to keep the story alive and fight for gun reform legislation. If we don’t, we could be next.

Bella Naspinski is a Trinity first-year. Her column typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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