Time to take action against gun violence

By Obeua Persons

I AM sure that everyone in the Rider community was shaken up by the gun violence threat and the resulting shelter-in-place on April 3. The Office of the President has since sent out a few messages about this incident. There is, however, one statement in Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo’s April 4 message that I cannot accept. The statement was, “But unfortunately, we must accept that these types of incidents are a new reality and most likely will continue to occur in the world we live in.” 

Accepting these types of incidents as a new reality is like surrendering to gun violence by inaction and the perception that we are powerless and can do nothing to prevent it. We must never accept gun violence in schools, colleges or anywhere else in our communities and country as a new reality. We must educate ourselves and strive to end gun violence.

All Rider community members (faculty, staff and students) need mandatory training for both proactive and reactive situations. Proactive training is learning to spot warning signs before an act of violence takes place and do something about it safely. It also involves building a culture of inclusivity and empathy. A reactive training is about what to do in the event of gun violence. I did not know what to do before the April 3 incident, and have since learned more from links in emails from the Office of the President, the business dean and from The Rider News. The last training that I attended about what to do in the event of active shooting on campus was back in 2007 in response to a spree shooting on the campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University on April 16, 2007. That training was, however, voluntary. 

I am disappointed that Rider has not invited any gun violence survivors or family and friends of gun violence victims to talk with us about gun violence’s impact and preventions in the face of many shocking and heartbreaking gun violence incidents. This includes the 2022 mass shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas; at a supermarket in a black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, and at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We do need to hear from gun-violence survivors and families and friends of gun-violence victims, and it is important that we are receptive to their pain and the void in their hearts.

The Uvalde school shooting that killed 19 innocent children and two teachers devastated me so much that I started to search for organizations active in addressing gun violence. I came across Moms Demand Action, a volunteer-driven grassroots movement fighting for public safety measures that can protect us from gun violence, and Students Demand Action, composed of young activists committed to ending gun violence. 

On April 3, Students Demand Action leaders from Vanderbilt University organized a walkout to the Tennessee capitol in response to the Covenant School shooting in Nashville. On April 5, Students Demand Action groups across the country followed suit and led more than 300 walk-outs in 42 states and in Washington, D.C., to demand stronger gun laws. Both Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action are part of Everytown for Gun Safety. Together they have helped elect “gun-sense” representatives, senators, mayors and judges to support gun-safety laws, and hold gun-sense events across the country throughout the year, especially around National Gun Violence Awareness Day, the first Friday in June, and the accompanying Wear Orange Weekend.

Although I attended only one event of Moms Demand Action in Trenton last year, this event had a dramatic impact upon me as I was crying most of the time while listening to a teacher whose friend, another dedicated teacher, was killed trying to protect his students from an active shooter, and a mother whose 14-year-old daughter was fatally shot in broad daylight while visiting her grandmother on Bellevue Avenue, Trenton. Attending such an event and regularly receiving emails from Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action give me hope that many people, including gun-violence survivors and families and friends of gun-violence victims, are fighting back to end gun violence in our communities and country. 

Another action against gun violence that you can do is to help enforce Extreme Risk laws by reporting to your local police department anyone who promotes violence or fantasizes about killing others, whether in a face-to-face setting or on social media. There were warning signs on Instagram posted by the 18-year-old gunman weeks before he killed 19 elementary-school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. New Jersey has this law, but even if your home state does not have this law, you can still report such an incident or person to the police. A potential gun violence incident at Lawrence High School was averted in December 2021 because a student reported another student who had brought a gun to the school.

The most fundamental every day action to assure safety in our communities is being kind to one another: kind in thoughts, kind in words and kind in actions.Your kindness and empathy can make the difference in those who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others. It takes all of us to uphold the safety of our communities and to end gun violence.

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