Students and faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill likely entered their second week of the fall semester expecting to learn about things like world history and chemical reactions.
Instead, they spent much of Monday afternoon barricaded inside lecture halls and bathrooms as police searched for an “armed and dangerous person” on campus.
Instead, they learned what it’s like to live an all-too-familiar nightmare, and one faculty member was killed in the shooting.
Down the road, students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools ended their first day of school in lockdown — including kindergarteners who set foot in the classroom this morning for the very first time. They couldn’t even spend one day feeling safe at school without being touched by gun violence.
It’s just another day in America.
For more than three hours, the community sheltered in place and waited for updates. They fielded texts from concerned family and friends. They asked themselves questions like “Am I sitting far away from the window?” and “Is there anything in this classroom I could use as a weapon?” Rumors and media reports with unverified and sometimes conflicting information only added to the fear and confusion.
Shortly after 4 p.m., an Alert Carolina message gave the official all-clear and told people on campus to “resume normal activities.”
If only it were that easy.
The effects of our country’s gun violence epidemic are often measured with statistics: the frequency of mass shootings, the number of fatalities, the number of people who have lost a loved one to gun violence.
But the fallout is actually much larger. History will remember what happened at UNC as a tragedy with one victim, but thousands more were left deeply shaken. The people on campus on Monday will never forget how it felt. They won’t forget the terror of hearing gunshots. They won’t forget telling their family members that they love them, just in case. They won’t forget the three hours they spent hiding and fearing for their lives.
That experience is traumatizing. And it is a symptom of the sick reality we live in now — one in which students live through lockdowns and practice active shooter drills before they even learn how to read. In which students are stripped of their sense of security in a place they should always feel safe.
What the UNC-Chapel Hill community experienced today is horrifically, inexcusably, tragically normal. It happens far too often to reasonably be considered shocking or rare. In fact, it happens with such frequency that Gen Z has been dubbed the “lockdown generation.”
At this time, police have not released information about the suspect or a possible motive. But make no mistake, guns are the problem. They are always the problem. As much as Republicans blame gun violence on mental health — and they have already begun to mention it in connection with this tragedy, without even knowing details — we all know that senseless gun deaths would not happen without guns.
As a UNC alum, I’m heartbroken for my alma mater. I’m also angry. I’m angry for the first-year students who had to look for hiding places on a campus they haven’t had time to familiarize themselves with yet, and I’m angry for the elementary school parents who have to have tough conversations with their kids tonight at the dinner table. I’m angry for the victim’s family — yet another family who has lost a loved one to an entirely preventable tragedy. They deserve so much better. We all do.
Perhaps most infuriating is the fact this tragedy will probably change nothing. There will be no new laws, only half-hearted commitments to “making us safer.” So it will happen again, here or somewhere else, and more people will be left traumatized and grieving. Like I said, it’s just another day in America.