Trigger Warning: This story contains discussion on mass shootings and gun violence.
BY AVA KUCH, STAFF WRITER
In the face of government gridlock and indifference toward gun violence, Generation Z (Gen Z) has taken on the role of the change-makers. While many praise young people for their commitment to activism, relying on Gen Z to solve today’s problems has one major flaw: America doesn’t have time to wait.
On Feb. 13, 2023, on the 5th anniversary of the Parkland shooting in Florida, a gunman opened fire at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Michigan, killing three and critically injuring five students.
So far this year as of Feb. 28, 2023, there have been over 1.5 times as many mass shootings in the U.S. as days so far in 2023, with over 89 mass shootings occurring in only 59 days. These shootings have left more than 130 people dead and 150 injured.
Natalie, a sophomore at MSU, was in her on-campus dorm the night of the shootings.
She says, “Once I realized the severity of the situation I turned my lights off, pushed our full-sized fridge in front of the door and hid behind our dresser.” Natalie recalls hearing students running from the Student Union, one of the shooting locations, outside her window.
Another student at MSU, who wishes to stay anonymous, says that night she had “received two emails that confirmed there was an active shooter,” with instructions to “run, hide, fight.”
Natalie, along with most other college-aged students today, is considered a member of Gen Z. Gen Z includes anyone born between 1997 and 2012 (ages 11-26), making last year the first election cycle where any Gen Z was old enough to run for Congress (25 years old).
Emilio Cuéllar, a senior at MSU, says he is frustrated when adults pose the idea of Gen Z fixing the problems of previous generations as a positive phenomenon. He says “we still unfortunately need their help if we want to fix this now.”
It is encouraging that young people in America are generally civically engaged and socially conscious, but Gen Z should not have to bear the burden of taking on this issue alone. Most of Gen Z is not old enough to run for office or even vote, and therefore have a big disadvantage when it comes to influencing policy.
Young people are also adversely affected by gun violence in America. Gun violence is the #1 cause of death for people 18-25, according to Students Demand Action.
Unlike any generation before them, Gen Z students have had the unique experience of growing up undergoing active shooter drills in school, practicing the same steps Natalie and many other students had to take on that night at MSU.
Cuéllar says one of his professors had the class make an “action plan” in case of an active shooter situation just two weeks before the events at MSU.
While Gen Z is taking cover in school, complacent adults in government continue to look the other way to ensure, instead, the safety of their donations from gun lobbies.
Bailey White, a senior at MSU, says the problem of safety in schools is bigger than what schools can do on an individual basis. White mentions expanding access to mental health care and instituting comprehensive background checks for gun owners as actions she sees as necessary to address these issues.
White asks, “While I know that it’s not necessarily the object that’s in the wrong, it’s the person behind the object, why is it so easy for someone with a criminal record to legally obtain a weapon?”
In the three days following the shootings at MSU, there were 10 other mass shootings in the U.S. and 50 people were killed.
The event at MSU is not the first mass shooting that some of these students have lived through. One photo is going viral of an MSU student outside after the shootings wearing a sweatshirt with “Oxford Strong” printed across the chest. The sweatshirt refers to the 2021 shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan where four students were killed and 7 others were injured.
Another current MSU student shared her experience on TikTok about being a student at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012 when a gunman killed 20 children and six teachers.
We don’t have time to wait for the gun lobby’s financial hold on Congress to fade. We don’t have time to wait for 11-year-olds to run for Congress in 14 years. We don’t have time to risk raising children who fear enduring multiple mass shootings in their lifetimes.
We don’t have time to lose more family, friends, and loved ones lives like Arielle, Alexandria and Brian at MSU.
We need Congress to step up now, pass gun reform and increased access to mental health resources and care. And we need older individuals to step up and vote for candidates that are committed to fighting for these issues.
Gen Z will likely continue to lead the battle for an end to gun violence. However, just because they are going to, does not mean they should have to.