“We cannot keep living like this”: Resisting the normalization of mass shootings in the US5 min read
As the rest of the country woke up to “Happy Valentine’s Day” and “I love you” texts on Feb. 14, the family and friends of Michigan State University students were hoping to receive any text at all.
On the evening of Feb. 13, a 43-year-old man stepped onto the campus in East Lansing, Mich., and took the lives of three college students, critically injuring five more and forever changing countless others.
This was the 67th mass shooting in 2023, which means that there have now been more mass shootings in the United States than there have been days in the year so far.
As the frequency of these shootings increases, so does my numbness to the horror. So, I can’t exactly pinpoint why this particular tragedy specifically broke a piece of me. I have no connection to the university or the state of Michigan. But something in me could not let it pass by unaddressed.
Maybe I’m becoming more sensitive as my little sister is wrapping up her high school career and entering the final stages of her college search. Now, I’m decidedly moving gun safety higher up on her pros and cons list. Or maybe it’s because I grew up 15 minutes from Virginia Tech and any college shooting takes me back to April 16, 2011: the day I spent in lockdown in my first grade classroom as a gunman went on a killing spree, leaving 32 dead. Either way, I couldn’t stop the tears from falling as I sat on my couch Tuesday morning, continually refreshing the New York Times live updates of the situation.
The stories began to roll in. Students in a night class on Cuban history huddled on the floor trying to reassure one another, while others smashed a window helping their classmates escape as gunpowder and bullets filled the back of the room. One student used his shirt in an attempt to slow the bleeding from his classmate’s arm.
Over and over again, the headlines will play across our screens. Year after year, we will pause, express our condolences, anger, frustration and pain at this senseless bloodshed, and then continue on to heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and candlelit dinners. I cannot fault this behavior; I have been guilty of doing the same in the past as these atrocities become more and more commonplace. Though these shootings are obviously not isolated to February, the communal loss and despair accentuated by interviews, comments and other testimonies from those grieving hits even harder as we take time to appreciate our loved ones.
But what about the three Michigan State students? The three University of Virginia football players? The five killed in a Tulsa, Okla. hospital? The six gunned down in a Sacramento street? The 19 children and two teachers murdered in Uvalde, Texas? What about the 20,138 lives that were taken by gun violence in 2022, according to The Trace? It definitely cannot be overlooked that Tuesday marked the fifth anniversary of the Parkland, Flor. massacre that resulted in the deaths of 14 high school students and three faculty members. Their lives and deaths should not be in vain. They cannot be ignored.
I do not expect a couple hundred words from a college journalist to be the catalyst of a social movement—especially not one large enough to result in meaningful political action, finally bringing an end to the tidal wave of carnage that has flooded our schools, grocery stores, nightclubs, churches and movie theaters. But I also cannot continue to wait for that change to come from our city councils, state capitals or federal government. Those in D.C. that we elected to office with the purpose of protecting and serving have continually decided to deny us the right to life.
In the words of the Parkland shooting survivor X Gonzalez, “We are speaking up for those who don’t have anyone listening to them, for those who can’t talk about it just yet, and for those who will never speak again. We are grieving, we are furious, and we are using our words fiercely and desperately because that’s the only thing standing between us and this happening again.”
So what can we do as students at UMW? Do we sign our name onto yet another petition? March in another rally down Pennsylvania Avenue? Put another gun violence awareness post on our Instagram stories? I cannot and will not pretend to have the answers. But as we dedicate a day to love this week, I have to wonder if there is a greater meaning we should extract from this holiday. That when the next massacre occurs—and it is only a matter of time—instead of letting the numbness spread, we stop to truly acknowledge and mourn the tragedy and pain. We let it hurt and soften the calluses we have formed around our hearts, so that we can foster deeper connections rooted in genuine care and love for the basic dignity of human life. So that we have something left inside of us—and uniting us—to fight the path of hopelessness and nihilism we are rapidly heading down.
I do not mean for this to come across as an idealistic appeal that love is the panacea for our nation’s sins and calamities. Rather, it is an attempt to ward off the impending apathy as a graduating senior about to make my way in our society and world.
As Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a press conference Tuesday morning on Michigan State’s campus, “We cannot keep living like this.”
No, we can’t. But we are. And we will. Unless we resist the normalization of this appalling loss of life. Unless we begin to place compassion and respect for humanity over political agendas, partisan lines and the countless other divides that hold our country hostage. Unless we strive to become stars to guide one another through the darkness of this night.
Due to editor error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Virginia Tech shooting happened on April 16, 2011, and a photo caption misspelled Brian Fraser’s name and @detroitnews, the source of the photo. This has been corrected.