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“It’s a race issue”: Swarthmore Residents and Neighboring College Students Reflect on Gun Violence and School Shootings

The United States is the only country with more guns than people, with 120.5 firearms for every 100 people. One of the most pressing questions today is why gun violence is so pervasive in the U.S., especially in educational institutions throughout the country. 

On Feb. 14, a school shooting took place at Michigan State University (MSU), killing three students and injuring five others. For hours after the incident, students and faculty remained on lockdown, as fear and panic swept across campus. But this was not an isolated incident. In the past year alone, there have been seven school shootings that have resulted in injuries and deaths. 

The Phoenix interviewed Swarthmore community members and students from nearby Temple and Drexel Universities to collect their opinions on this issue. 

Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies Professor Lee Smithey, who teaches a course called “Gun Violence Prevention: Peace Studies and Action,” identified gun availability as the root cause of shootings. 

“Gun violence, including mass shootings, are more frequent in the United States than in other industrialized democracies even though rates of violence in other developed countries are not generally lower than in the U.S.,” Smithey explained. “The availability of guns in the U.S. stands out to researchers as a primary factor in explaining the discrepancy.”

Prospective political science and peace and conflict studies major Ragad Ahmad ’26 shared his belief that laws, ghost guns, and private sellers further increase gun accessibility. 

“Guns are incredibly accessible in more ways than one. Ghost guns are firearms that people buy the parts for, put together, and then use without registration. There can also be private sellers who don’t have to necessarily run background checks on buyers so a buyer can have a mental disorder or violent background and still be able to purchase a gun,” Ahmad explained.

First-year student Ali Jonny from Drexel University agreed that accessibility is a problem, but also highlighted more nuanced factors. 

“There is often a complex mix of mental health issues, social isolation, and other factors that can contribute to someone turning to violence as a way to express their frustration or pain,” Jonny said. “Another factor is the outspread culture of violence that can sometimes be perpetuated in our society, whether through media, entertainment, or other channels. This can create a mindset where violence is seen as an acceptable way to solve problems, and can even glorify it in some cases.” 

Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies Michael Wilson Becerril also spoke to social isolation as a stimulator of gun violence. 

“We are so alienated, isolated, and atomized that people become kind of insecure when they are not connected to a strong, resilient community,” he said. “Individualism is an ideology — you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you can’t rely on other people. When you come home, [people] don’t talk to [their] neighbors, [they] go straight to [the] television because it is more comforting than forming a community,” he shared.

Becerril described how a culture of isolation, in combination with problematic laws, created the gun violence crisis. 

“There’s nothing more dangerous than insecure, young men, who are the primary perpetrators of gun violence. The people who perpetrate gun violence in this country are overwhelmingly white, cis men, between the ages of sixteen and 35, I believe. What is it about this demographic?” Becerril questioned. “What is it about this culture that has made these men willing to act out their insecurities violently? Also, what is it about our policy and our politics that have enabled these men to so easily grab a gun and take somebody’s life?” 

Both Becerril and Ahmad also described how U.S. constitutional law has allowed the provision of firearms based on outdated racist practices; by giving perpetrators the ability to hold firearms, the government is enabling them to take advantage of Black people and other minority groups. 

“The Second Amendment allows individuals to rally as a militia and to bear arms for the militia. During the time that the Constitution was being constructed, militias were mainly used for slave control in terms of preventing labor revolts, and capturing escaped slaves … the South wanted to secure a structural component of the Constitution that would allow those in power to continue slavery through the militia,” Ahmad explained. 

Ahmad also shared that the Second Amendment continues to have racial implications in the present day. 

 “What you see now is that African Americans are targeted for the use of firearms and are the ones most affected by gun violence,” she said. “I think that [gun violence] is such a big issue within the United States because it’s a race issue. It’s something that the white majority is using against people of color to cripple them, dehumanize them, and take away their rights.”

Becerril further described how the state radicalizes gun violence. 

“The state is supposed to be the only one who gets to decide who is bad enough that we kill them. The idea of capital punishment is the state’s power. The state is supposed to be the keeper of a monopoly of legitimate violence,” he said. “And so the state deputizing predominantly privileged, entitled, white men, to be the keepers of order… is a recipe for racialized gun violence.”

When asked how they felt about the continuous stream of school shootings and incidents of gun violence, Jonny described a tone of desensitization. 

“After a while, these issues don’t become a surprise anymore. In the U.S., it is almost as if we are conditioned to get used to this. No change is being done, so how else are we expected to react? The people in power only seem to care about their own self interests as if it wasn’t their duty to serve the people of this nation.” 

This feeling was echoed by Becerril. 

“You become desensitized after a while, right? And you can only be outraged so often…  In fewer than 60 days, we’ve had more than 80 mass shootings. I think your mind only has the capacity biologically, mentally, [to endure] so much pain … It’s almost hard to grasp, to comprehend, and put the same kind of level of emotional care and labor as intensely for every case, if it’s happening multiple times a day … I feel like I just don’t have the human capacity to experience the same level of pain for all of them when it happens so frequently.”

Temple University student Riyam Nashi ’26 described an act of violence on their college campus: the murder of a campus cop

“This was such a prominent event in the Temple community that it has shaken us to our cores. Temple students realized that there is a major flaw in the Temple administration and their lack of action when it came to preventing incidents such as this from happening. If we cannot physically move the university to a safer neighborhood, the school must take drastic measures to ensure that the neighborhood becomes safer,” she said.

Despite the severity of the situation, there is still hope. Becerril believes that because the problem is rooted in U.S. culture and not human nature, it can also be unrooted. 

 “The fact that this is such a pronounced problem here, and it exists virtually nowhere else, signals that it is a problem that we have created, that it stems from our society, our culture, and our politics, specifically, our policy,” he shared. “Therefore, that also gives me some hope because it shows that this isn’t an inherent problem for humanity. This isn’t biological or evolutionarily, as many people will want to frame it. What gives me hope is realizing that, actually, we have a lot to do on this issue. So, there’s something about U.S. policy that we could change and correct. We can learn from other countries that are comparable to the U.S. and observe how they’ve succeeded.”

Moving forward, Jonny mentioned that the most important measure is to stay informed. 

“I feel like staying up-to-date on the latest news and research related to gun violence and school shootings can help students understand the scope of the problem and identify opportunities for action,” said Jonny. 

Ahmad also suggested breaking down educational barriers by using our position of intellectual privilege to support other communities. 

“Educational barriers are a key component when it comes to violence. We have the privilege of having the education that we do and understanding that violence is never the key. As students and as typically liberal individuals, we have an obligation to go out and teach communities who have these educational barriers about the detrimental effects of gun violence,” she said.

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