The U.S. Gun Violence Epidemic: “I’ve experienced two mass shootings that occurred in places that I both call home.” 

Nicole Perlstein, a current Michigan State University (MSU) student and native Highland Park, IL resident, has endured two mass shootings in her hometowns within the last seven months. 

On July 4, 2022, Highland Park, IL lost seven members of its community to gun violence during a 4th of July Parade that left the country reeling. Then, seven months later, on February 13, 2023 Michigan State University was held hostage as a gunman roamed the campus and took the lives of three students. These tragic events are sadly not statistical anomalies. During this year alone, close to 100 mass shootings have taken place within the U.S. With all this violence taking place, one must ask: is the United States diseased by gun violence?

If you were to ask Nicole, the answer would be a definitive yes. Growing up in Highland Park, a suburb perceived to be reasonably safe, Nicole never felt as though her life were in immediate danger. She, like many Americans, held the “not me” mindset that separates the threat of danger from immediate reality. Yet on July 4, 2022, Nicole’s entire world view shifted.

I believe a piece of my innocence was lost that day; I haven’t been the same since, nor have I felt safe anywhere I’ve gone. I truly think about it every single day. I also will never be able to celebrate the Fourth of July ever again… How could I? How could I celebrate the Fourth of July when I am so angry at America?

Her anger towards her country is not unfounded, as the U.S. holds one of the highest percentages of mass shootings and gun related deaths in the world. Not only that, federal law prohibits the creation of a national gun registry leaving numerous guns unaccounted for and countless homicides unsolved. With all of these stark facts plaguing our present, it is a miracle that more people aren’t as fearful of guns as Nicole.

However, this is not to say that Americans as a collective are not fearful of gun violence.  The U.S. has already begun to see psychological effects on the wellbeing of many Americans due to the constant stress and trauma of fearing or enduring a mass shooting. Nicole’s recounting of the MSU shooting is a harrowing insight into the mind of a shooting survivor and how such an event can emotionally harm ones’ prosperity.

Just one night before the five year anniversary of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a 43 year old man shot up two of our buildings at Michigan State University, killing 3 students and injuring 5 others. This experience was much different than Highland Park. 50,000 of us students all had to shelter-in-place, the first time I’ve had to ever take it seriously. I knew exactly what to do because we’ve been [prepared for] it our entire lives, which shouldn’t be normal. Elementary schoolers should be taught Math and English, not how to survive an active shooter.

My 8 friends and I went into a room together and locked the door. We turned off the lights and my friend and I moved a heavy desk to barricade the door. From 8:45ish to around 1am, I kept my shoes on incase I had to run. I kept a plan B (hide in the bathroom and lock the door) and C (knock out the window, jump out and just keep running) in the back of my head. We tried to stay as quiet as we could, so all you could hear in that room was weeping cries, phone calls to families, and horrifying news coverage.

After the shelter-in-place was lifted, the 9 of us decided to stay together that night. We all brought our blankets and pillows into my friend’s room and went to bed together that night, not ever leaving each other’s sides. The media has not been capturing what all of the university was going through that night. What the news has told the world is that there was one gunman who shot 8 people and then took his own life. That is NOT what we were all hearing that night. We heard there were multiple shooters. It felt like every minute they were announcing another building a shooter was in.

The majority of MSU students were worried about something happening to them that night no matter where they were. My friends and I weren’t sure if we were going to be next. It genuinely sounded like a war zone in East Lansing. We also heard there were explosives put around campus, and that’s when I wanted to get out of that room and drive away, but I knew I couldn’t leave. With how scared we were, I cannot fathom the amount of fear those students and teachers in Berkey Hall and the Union were in. I am so so so grateful I was home and safe that night, but my life will forever be changed.

Such a trauma should not be a common occurrence and yet, Nicole has seen two of her communities lose their sense of safety as they have been forced to endure the pain of grieving their loved ones. It is an atrocious act of violence that no one should go through and yet, Nicole is far from alone in reliving this experience.

A student at Michigan State was 11 when she was hiding during Sandy Hook. There are other students here who had to hide during the Parkland shooting. Oxford High School is in Michigan, so there are students who came here experiencing another school shooting within 15 months. And then there’s students here who are from my hometown Highland Park, Illinois, experiencing another mass shooting within 7 months. I am also sure there are students who’ve experienced some other sort of gun violence or trauma in general, and this shooting this past week triggered them. The more mass shootings that occur, the more individuals will have already experienced one before. That is NOT normal. My friends think it is crazy to see their school on national headlines, but I find it crazier that I feel familiarized to that— seeing the place I love all over the news.

With such terrible ongoing devastation, many may begin to feel hopeless in the fight for gun reform. But it is this very hopelessness that must be fought against if we are ever to move forward. As Americans, we hold the power to use our votes and voices to advocate for the future that we wish to inhabit. Organizations such as March for Our Lives demonstrate this determination for reform and how anyone, including and especially young people, have the power to incite change. Nicole, who has suffered through more shootings than anyone should ever have to, is still hopeful that there is a world in which guns no longer plague the U.S. and where children and adults alike are unburdened by the fear of dying by gun violence every waking moment. 

I know there won’t come a time where there is a 100% working solution to gun violence. But, I do believe once our generation becomes adults with power and we’re able to create the laws, there will be more done to prevent more shootings.

Gun violence in the United States should never be taken as a normalcy in our society. The anguish and horror elicited from mass shootings are a viral epidemic that have continued to spread throughout the country and will continue to do so until stopped. It is therefore up to us, the people, to continue to call for progress so that students like Nicole can make it to 21 without being overly burdened by grief and fear. Whether it be volunteering with gun reform organizations or simply spreading awareness on social media, we owe it to Nicole and future generations to never stop fighting for peace.

The Highland Park shooting claimed the lives of 7 victims. 

The Michigan State University shooting claimed the lives of 3 victims.

How many more shootings must Nicole endure before true change is brought on?

We are now just another statistic that will be forgotten about. My thoughts and prayers are here but we have to do more than just wait for more deaths. We really need to see change. Enough is enough. This isn’t about politics anymore, it's about public safety.