OPINION: Why do we let tragedies like the MSU shooting keep happening?

Price Wilborn, Commentary Editor

A gunman opened fire on campus at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan on Feb. 13. The shooting killed three MSU students and injured five more.

It has been just over a week since the shooting, and I am still trying to process what happened.

Arielle Anderson was 19 years old. She graduated high school in 2021, just as I did.

Alexandria Verner was 20 years old. She was a junior studying biology.

Brian Fraser was 20 years old. He was the president of MSU’s chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

These three Spartans were just like each and every one of us – young, involved on campus with big dreams and endless potential. Every single person on WKU’s campus can connect with one of these students in some kind of way.

Now, each of these bright lights are gone unnecessarily.

As with every mass shooting in the country, the community of East Lansing and the state of Michigan have been in pain, with Michiganders and Americans rallying around the MSU community.

The largest showings of support have come from the rivals of MSU, the University of Michigan. At UMich, students held a vigil in support of the MSU Spartans. On Saturday, the two universities played each other in both men’s and women’s basketball. Before the beginning of the men’s game  at the University of Michigan in a gymnasium lit in green, for the first time in school history, UMich learned and played MSU’s alma mater in a performance following a moment of silence that nearly brought me to tears.

In 1999, 13 students were killed in one of the nation’s first mass school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Using data from security.org, I found that at least 202 people have been killed in school shootings since Columbine (this data ends with the Robb Elementary School shooting in May 2022, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed).

I cannot understand why those in power allow this to continue. After each school shooting comes renewed calls for gun reform in the United States, reforms that ensure those who should not own firearms cannot get one.

Instead, those in power make efforts to increase police presence and safety in and around schools and communities.

Yes, these can be good measures. In Kentucky, following the shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, then Governor Matt Bevin created the Office of the State School Security Marshal after passing the School Safety and Resilience Act. The State School Security Marshal sets standards for school safety and sends inspectors to ensure Kentucky’s public schools are meeting these standards.

In Kentucky, these measures have worked to keep students safe. This has not stopped the constant worry of students around the nation on public school and college campuses.

I remember my very first lockdown drill, which occurred when I was in first grade. Throughout my time in public schools, these drills were common and a part of daily life. The threat of someone breaking into the school with a gun was a part of my daily life in elementary, middle and high school.

Now at Western Kentucky University, thanks to the efforts of WKUPD, I feel safe, but the shooting at MSU made this threat so much more real. No college student should have to live in fear that someone with a gun is going to walk onto campus and open fire, but that is the reality that Hilltoppers and college students around the country have to deal with every single day.

It is time for the Kentucky State Legislature to take more action. It has an opportunity to create change that keeps public schools and colleges safer than they ever have been.

Background checks make sense. Gun reform makes sense. It is time for change to happen.

It is just basic human decency for students to feel safe in schools. From kindergarten through high school, students spend eight hours a day at school five days a week for 10 months of the year. College students eat, sleep, learn and socialize all on the campus of their university. We deserve to live in a world where we should not have to be scared to go to school.

Teachers and staff deserve to be safe at their places of work. They are educating the future leaders of the United States on a salary that does not pay them nearly enough. They care for the kids they teach, often putting more than their contracted hours in every week. There should not be the added pressure, stress and fear of being killed when you walk into work.

Arielle Anderson was my age.

I turn 20 – the age of Alexandria Verner and Brian Fraser – in less than a month.

We owe it to each of them, every other victim of a school shooting in the United States and their families to make sure they did not die for nothing.

We owe it to every present and future Hilltopper and college student in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States of America to ensure they are safe and can live long and happy lives.

Thoughts and prayers are no longer enough, and they have not been for quite some time.

Those against gun reform argue against it because it violates the Second Amendment rights and freedoms.

I would argue, however, that the life of a school child or college student is worth much more than the right of an American to own a gun. The Declaration of Independence argues for the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” but hundreds of students at all levels of education were maliciously robbed of their chance.

When writing this piece, I only had one idea for the graphic, and this is the one you see at the top of this piece. Those are the names of nearly every person killed in a school shooting in the United States since Columbine. These include students, teachers and other school staff members.  As I sat at my desk researching names and learning about some of these victims, I could not help but feel emotional.

The youngest children killed were six years old. Many were around my age or the age of my friends and loved ones. I cannot imagine how we have failed these victims and their families, letting these tragedies happen over and over again, further numbing society to the issue each time it happens.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

Gun reform requires action. It requires a bold, united front. We can no longer only be united in the aftermath of tragedy. We must continuously work together to make sure that a tragedy like those that happened at Heath High School, Columbine, Virginia Tech University, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Marshall County High School, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Robb Elementary School and Michigan State University never happen again.

We just have to be bold enough to try.

Commentary editor Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.

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