Content warning: The following story contains explicit language regarding gun violence and death that may be triggering for some readers. For support after a mass tragedy, contact the SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990. For on-campus services, call NU Counseling and Psychological Services at 847-491-2151.

Last night, a gunman opened fire at Michigan State University, killing three students and critically injuring five more. The shooting happened mere hours before the fifth-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

This is the second time in 15 months that public schools in my home state have been plagued by gun violence. The other occurred in November of 2021, where four students were killed at Oxford High School. I grew up 45 minutes from both East Lansing and Oxford, and today I am reminded of the fear that I could be “next.”

Generation Z has been told it could never be “us.” Sandy Hook could never be “us.” Parkland could never be “us.” Uvalde could never be “us.” But almost always, it’s “us.”

However, the day after Oxford, the fragility of life flooded my mind. Rumors circulated across my high school about the gunman, saying he was one of many or that other local high schools would be targeted. Mine could be next, they said.

In a panic, I, like so many at Hartland High School, texted my parents to leave school early for the day. As I walked – no, ran – to my car, I imagined what my life would be like if that had been me. What if my parents lost their only son? It would destroy them. That was the thought that caused me to break down in my little red Sedan.

This was the first time I felt truly unsafe in the world. And though things slowly returned to normal, after countless safety presentations and lockdown drills, something about Hartland High School changed forever.

After the shooting at Oxford, both Michigan’s state officials and the federal government made promises. New gun reform laws are coming! Now is the time to act! Our children will be safe soon!

But I thought, “Wait, weren’t Sandy Hook, Parkland and Uvalde also ‘times to act?’” Did not enough people die to turn those thoughts, prayers and empty promises into tangible action? Here we are witnessing another preventable tragedy. Michigan State marks the 67th mass shooting of 2023 according to the Gun Violence Archive, and it’s only Feb. 14.

I want to believe this time will be different, believe me, I do. Once again, President Biden is promising reform at the federal level, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rightly said we “can’t keep living like this.” But until military-grade weapons are made illegal, universal background checks are standardized and American society renounces its obsession with anger and violence, I can’t help but wait with baited breath to hear about the next tragedy tomorrow.

How many of us have to die before Congress decides our lives matter enough to act? How long until they realize that protecting us is worth pissing off the National Rifle Association, or that maybe the “arms” James Madison allowed us to bear have become more dangerous than he could have ever imagined, and that the Constitution should be amended accordingly?

Say their names, because three families and countless communities and friends have been forever changed by another senseless act of violence. Take the initiative and responsibility to change the trajectory of our nation. Don’t just repost the same story on Instagram – scream so loud that those in power can’t help but hear your voice. Stop voting for complicit politicians that will continue to delay reformative action. Do something to ensure that our children can attend school without fear of being shot.

Fuck your “thoughts and prayers.”

Arielle Anderson.

Brian Fraser.

Alexandria Verner.

Don’t let them die in vain. To join the fight against gun violence led by Students Demand Action, text STUDENTS to 644-33.

Thumbnail image "Welcome to Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan" by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.