Three months after a group of students walked out of Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, to protest gun violence and school shootings, the school became a harrowing statistic itself. Eight students and two teachers were killed on Friday and 10 more injured when a gunman opened fire during the first period of the day.*
Friday marks one more lone wolf white male shooter with “troubling” social media posts and a history of isolation in custody, with not a scratch on him courtesy of the police.
In recent months, I’ve written a lot about gun control and common sense gun control. After attending the March for Our Lives in late March, I wrote a series of columns encouraging student involvement in the fight to tighten gun laws in this country. Not even two full months after that, it pains me to have to go through the same process again, with more lives lost and more empty thoughts and prayers from people whose pockets are full of money from the NRA.
Although I’ve touched on the roles that white privilege plays in all aspects of the gun control debate, it’s time to explicitly address the very salient statistic that a huge proportion of mass shootings are being carried out by white men with ill-advised access to weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, it is time to address the way that whiteness is a key factor in the gun control debate — white people are typically less likely to be profiled by police and less likely to be shot, and are in fact more likely to be the ones doing the profiling.
According to a database compiled by Mother Jones, of the 49 recorded mass shootings (defined by Mother Jones as three or more killed) since 2010 in the US, 24 were carried out by white men. Of these same 49, only 23 of them had definitive prior signs of mental illness, and yet many of them were painted as mentally unstable and otherwise harmless by major media outlets and legislators who do nothing else to strengthen gun laws or allow better access to mental health care.
It is important to note here that it is not just white men who have privilege when it comes to gun violence, but also white women. Just last week, Kaitlin Bennet, a graduate at Kent State University in Ohio posed for her graduation pictures with an AR-10 rifle, and a cap that said “Come and get it.” On May 4, 1970, Kent State was witness to a mass shooting of its own campus, carried out by the Ohio National Guard against unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War.
People like Bennet, who flaunt their “right to bear arms” without giving a single thought to the destruction that comes as a result of assault-grade weapons like AR-10 rifles, are people who have never truly had to fear for their lives, from anything. This is privilege — white privilege. While a white woman can walk around a college campus with an assault rifle in plain sight with no tangible consequences, a 12-year-old black child — Tamir Rice — is shot while holding a toy gun in a public park.
What all this comes down to is that, at the end of the day, it is white men who seem to be a common denominator in gun-related violence — particularly in mass shootings. At the same time, it is white men who seem to be doing the absolute least to bring about change that could result in fewer mass shootings and less gun violence overall.
As is the case with most social justice issues, the unfortunate reality is that until people in positions of privilege speak out in support of marginalized communities and instances of oppression, positive steps toward equity will remain frustratingly slow.
NC State is a community of young, educated individuals with the capability to enact real change as a group. The key is to recognize common problems that affect groups within the community and work together to find solutions. Gun violence is a problem that affects our community in ways that may not be immediately visible, but it is profound enough to require immediate action.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I urge you — white people in particular — to contact your legislators and work with your peers on campus to make sure that common sense gun safety is a priority. As cheesy as it sounds, there are literal lives that depend on our genuine efforts to enact change.
*Correction, May 21, 2018: This post originally misstated the number of students and teachers.