Shortly after 9 a.m. on Dec. 2, phones lit up with text messages demanding, “Are you OK?” I was on the second floor of Fetzer Gymnasium, where I was supposed to be taking a final, when the lock-down emergency sirens screeched, announcing a gun threat on the UNC campus. Students and teachers squeezed together on the ground, some confused, others desperately scared. Police officers surrounded the ROTC Armory building with assault rifles in anticipation. Forty-five tense minutes later, we got the “all clear” signal. The threat this time had been minor.
Growing up in a public school system, I endured dozens of lock-down drills – and one real five-hour-long tornado lock down. Tornadoes are frightening, but knowing that someone might storm into the classroom and shoot people feels surreal and a thousand times more frightening.
During the UNC lock down, I kept thinking, “I don’t want to be another breaking news story.” Little did I know, but just hours before our lock down, multiple shootings had occurred across North Carolina, and in another four hours, carnage would commence in San Bernardino, California.
There have been more than 150 school shootings in America this year. The body count from all gun-related deaths is astoundingly high. The FBI reported that out 13,752 victims murdered by weapons in 2009, firearms killed 9,199 of them. In 2013, 8,454 out of 12,253 homicide victims died from guns. Firearm homicide seems to have decreased by 8.1 percent over four years, but considering gunshot-wound victims admitted alive to trauma centers in 2010 were twice as likely to survive as they were in 2003, more people are getting shot than ever, only fewer are dying thanks to advancements in medicine.
The National Opinion Research Center found that 70 percent to 80 percent of Americans support strict permit applications. Yet we still listen as gun rights extremists try to convince us that laws do not work. When are we going to wake up to the reality that by doing nothing, we are complicit in the violence?
At UNC, for 45 terrifying moments, we feared that we were going to be the next notorious school and that we would be the ones forever changed by gun violence.
We do not have to live this way. We can demand that our government legislate and strengthen background checks for gun sales at gun shows and those between private parties. We can tell our legislators that schools and college campuses – our classrooms and our dorm rooms – are no place for privately owned firearms.
The gun is not the only tool used for pain and destruction, but because it is efficient and dependably lethal, it has been the weapon of choice.
Abuse of firearms may never go away completely in America, but each life saved from gun violence is a triumph. We might not all agree on how to abolish gun violence and create peace, but conversation and compromise will carry us much further than polarized accusations, bound by hatred and blame.
Yusheng Zhang, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, has lived in Chapel Hill since 2008.