A mere fifty-seven days into 2023 and the United States has witnessed 95 mass shootings, breaking down to almost two mass shootings a day.
Unfortunately, this statistic is no longer surprising to the public. In 2022, the United States experienced a total of 647 mass shootings, a number that the United States is set out to obliterate unless change is enacted quickly. In fact, overall gun violence is at an all-time high.
“Gun violence occurs in America every day; 108 people [fall victim to gun violence] a day as of 2020” says Lelan O’Brien, a recent victim of gun violence. In 2021, O’Brien’s father, Terry, a devoted community member, husband, and dad was senselessly murdered at work by a disgruntled former employee.
Then, just over a week ago, a 43-year-old man opened fire on the Michigan State University campus, murdering three innocent students and critically injuring five others.
“It [the shooting] serves to awaken and mobilize more people to the fact that gun violence risks can affect anyone” Christopher Smith of the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence said.
“For the Michigan State shooting to happen again at a place for higher learning, was triggering for everyone, especially for me as a college student” O’Brien notes, confirming Smith’s hope for students to react to the severity.
In the wake of the shooting, students have reacted by either fleeing campus in search of somewhere they feel safer or have stayed put and united on campus and online. The community offered condolences and well wishes while also letting out a cry for help.
“Students and local residents [are] stag[ing] multiple demonstrations at the state capitol and [are] seek[ing] guidance on how they can contact their legislators to express their views” says Smith.
“It is a very pointed reminder to people around here about the risks–and about the need to have strong legislative action.” Smith notes.
The Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence has received an influx in societal engagements since the travesty and has been utilizing the traction to push for more change from the government.
This response has been synonymous with many other students and communities who have been affected by gun violence.
“I decided to turn my grief into action” said O’Brien after the death of his father.
“The easiest thing to do was to follow Gifford, Brady, Everytown, and other nonprofits on social media and repost them to increase one’s awareness of gun violence” says O’Brien, also sending a message to his fellow students to do the same.
Social media is not the only avenue for information, either.
“We try to provide information to the public through emails, interviews and speaking engagements, and meetings with other groups aligned in pushing the state legislature to reduce gun violence,” says Smith.
While social media engagement is important, O’Brien wanted to do more than simply repost facts and resources.
A government major at Hamilton College, he anticipated spending his junior fall in Washington, D.C. working in congress, but he quickly pivoted to an internship at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“After looking into Brady more and learning about their internship I applied and got it,” said O’Brien.
Brady is a non-profit organization named after former White House Press Secretary, James Brady, who was shot and gravely injured during an attempted Presidential assassination.
Coalitions like the one Smith is a part of and organizations like Brady have been putting forth their best effort, but they cannot do it alone.
“Republicans in the legislature have blocked all consideration of gun safety laws for many years” notes Smith “but starting last month, Democrats who support gun safety measures now control both houses of the legislature [in Michigan] so we expect to see some gun safety laws enacted in the coming months and the MSU event will put further pressure on them to act quickly” Smith adds.
But optimism does not always equal reality.
“There are 400 million guns on the loose. The United States Supreme Court is dominated by justices who seem willing to have guns carried almost everywhere” Smith mentions when asked about the potential for positive change in the near future.
O’Brien relates to Smith’s frustration.
“The NRA are the ones that systematically redefined the definition of the second amendment in legal literature and it was Judge Antonin Scalia who, after looking at all of the NRA ridden literature, changed the ‘individualist interpretation’ to be constitutional” O’Brien says with rage.
“Perhaps today’s young people will become more energized, vote at higher rates, and create pressure for new laws” Smith says with added optimism.
O’Brien agrees. “Change is a nationwide reckoning and upheaval of how we see gun culture in this country, and I believe that we can get there”.
Though the road to a safer United States will not be easy, it does not mean it is impossible.