The school shooting generation
Look at the faces of Michigan State University students as they ran down staircases, jumped behind low walls and barricaded themselves in dorms and classroom buildings when a gunman opened fire on campus Monday night.
The photos and videos are all over social media, showing their fear and panic. Take a good hard look at them. Don’t look away.
This is what we’ve wrought in the United States, a nation under siege because of its destructive obsession with guns. Three young people are dead today, and five others were wounded. They are the latest casualties of a culture gone awry and a society that refuses to intervene or to say, loudly and clearly, that it has had enough.
So look at them today. Take some time to scroll through the images of children running for their lives, of tearful goodbye messages to loved ones, of a campus lit up by a phalanx of emergency vehicles and police cars.
Recognize, first, that those kids knew what to do. They were trained for this moment, through countless active shooter drills in high school, in middle school and in elementary school. They expected this and knew how to respond.
Some have even lived this particular terror before.
A survivor of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting attends Michigan State. The Detroit Free Press reported Tuesday that Jackie Matthews was a sixth-grader when a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members in Newtown, Connecticut. She’s a college senior now, her life forever shaped by two men with guns a decade apart.
The Free Press also interviewed the mother of an MSU freshman who attended Oxford High School, where four students were killed and seven others wounded by a gunman in 2021. She apparently suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, having lost two friends in that school shooting a little more than a year ago.
According to data analysis by The Washington Post, there were 46 school shootings in this country last year. Reporters there have recorded 266 school shootings since the 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, an early marker of this particularly insidious type of gun violence. (The federal government doesn’t track that data.)
The MSU shooting happened on a Monday. Tuesday marked the five-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students, teachers and staff members and wounded 17 more. Tuesday was also the 15th anniversary of a shooting at Northern Illinois University that killed five students and wounded 17 others.
The Post compiled records of facility capacity and attendance figures to conclude that about 388,000 American children have been exposed to gun violence while at school between the Columbine shooting in 1999 and today.
That includes students at Virginia Tech (2007), the University of Virginia (2022) and the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy (2002). And it includes students at Heritage High School (2021), Menchville High School (2021) and Richneck Elementary School (2023), all in Newport News.
Students today, such as those at MSU, were raised in this environment. They are the second school shooting generation. When their phones lit up Monday night with the message “Run. Hide. Fight.” they did not hesitate.
But they also know that none of this should be happening. Their lives shouldn’t be at risk because they want an education, just as people shouldn’t fear gun violence when going to the theater or the grocery store or the mall or to church or anywhere else in America.
So don’t look away from these faces, their fear and their panic. We have the power to stop this — to do everything necessary to halt gun violence — and we are cowards each time we decide that this is the price of freedom.