EdBoard: Michigan State University gripped by tragedy

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On Monday Feb. 13, three people were killed and five were injured by a spree shooter at Michigan State University. The perpetrator was not a student and had no apparent ties to the university.

The shooter's motives remain elusive. Hours after the initial shooting, he was found miles from campus, and when approached by police he took his own life. In a news conference on Thursday, Feb. 16, Michigan state police confirmed that the gunman had a note on his person where he describes issues he had at former workplaces, including a distribution center for Meijer, a midwest supermarket company.

According to the gunman's father, the perpetrator was socially isolated, had difficulty holding down a job, and in recent years became increasingly bitter and angry. The president of UFCW Local 951, who represented the gunman during his employment at the aforementioned distribution center, described him as relatively unremarkable and displaying little indication that he might be capable of extreme violence.

Many are disillusioned with the cycle of grief, debate, and inaction that occurs with every one of these tragedies — although even making this observation is now a routine part of the cycle. This marks the 31st time The Onion has used their perennial "No Way To Prevent This" headline. This probably won't be the last EdBoard piece we write about a mass shooting. Frankly, is there anything new to even say?

For better or worse, America has a deeply ingrained gun culture and not just among gun owners in rural communities. Our media and mythologies center around the actions of righteous individuals with guns, making it no surprise that Wayne LaPier's motto, "Good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns," was so popular. The hyper-individualistic hero trope resonates with a cohort of extremely politically motivated gun owners who want to believe that deep down, they're a steady enough shot to prevent the next tragedy. The perpetuation of this myth is no doubt a key factor in the fierce political activism of the NRA.

The prevalence of gun ownership in America also means that a national ban on broad categories of guns is probably not feasible within our lifetimes. Many point to the effectiveness of Australia's 1996 ban on civilian ownership of certain guns as evidence that the solution is just that easy. And even though Australia's gun culture and national mythology has more than a few similarities to our own, their gun ban was enacted in a vastly different political context — namely, they don't have a second amendment. Effective as it was, similar legislation in America would require overcoming the cultural significance of guns (no doubt supercharged in recent years by culture-war rhetoric), in addition to overcoming a Constitutional amendment. This is not to imply that cultural shifts never happen or that we've never amended the Constitution, but those hurdles are enough to make the problem seem almost completely intractable. Furthermore, gun control laws have historically been used to disarm communities of color. We can't ignore the fact that a gun ban in the context of a racist legal system will inherit the flaws of said system. Restricting civilian gun ownership would keep firearms in the hands of law enforcement, which isn't useful if the police are the ones who pose a threat to your community.

But harping on the infeasibility of a national gun ban belies the fact that actually, roughly 90 percent of Americans are in favor of background checks on all gun purchases. Furthermore, 70 percent of Americans support the use of Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), a policy in which either the police or a family member can get a court to temporarily suspend a person's right to own a gun. However, the discourse around gun laws has become so poisoned that ERPOs have been branded as "red flag laws," evoking fears of a gun confiscation. In 2019, a Colorado sheriff threatened that he would refuse to enforce a state-wide red flag law on the basis that it was unconstitutional.

Seeing as this unique form of tragedy shows no signs of slowing (in fact, 2023 has already seen more mass shootings in the U.S. than any previous year had at this point), it becomes important to consider what you as an individual should do in the event of a mass shooting. According to experts, spree shooters often fire indiscriminately into public areas. The best course of action is, unsurprisingly, to get away from the perpetrator as quickly as possible — failing that, seek to put a sturdy physical barrier between you and the gunfire, duck low, and make yourself as small a target as possible.

The students of Carnegie Mellon grieve with the Michigan State University community, and we hope that such tragedies can be addressed by sensible gun legislation.