June 3, 2022

WISE-ROJAS | How Race and Society Influence Gun Violence 

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Content warning: This article contains mentions of gun violence and radicalism.

Sitting on my bed, my phone lit up as per usual with the latest headlines. My heart dropped to my stomach when I read the headline: “Developing Story: School Shooting in an Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.”A story documenting the victims revealed how nearly all the victims were of Latinx descent. Other reports documented that the shooter posted his violent plans on Twitter, with no one taking the time to pay attention to his mental state and how it would impact others. One explained how easy it is to get an assault rifle like an AR-15 — the shooter got it as soon as he turned 18. 

These stories hurt any empathetic person to hear, no doubt about it. Nevertheless, I don’t think people should stand by and only send well wishes and prayers, especially since shootings are recurring events in America. As Cornell students with an elite education, I firmly believe that our Ivy privilege puts us in a position where it is critical to advocate for more education for young children about the internet and its role in discrimination. I also affirm that we are responsible for advocating for policies and legislation that ban (or at least place further restrictions) on firearms, especially assault rifles. 

One would hope that Uvalde would be an isolated incident. Alas, it is not. Since 1970, according to Campus Safety Magazine, 637 people have died and there have been 1,924 incidents regarding the discharge of a firearm on school property. We’re only about halfway through 2022 and, as of May 25, NPR reported that 27 school shootings have taken place this year. There is no single “how” to solve these problems, nor can they be solved with one answer; there are ways to start, however, such as educating teens at a young age about racism and other forms of discrimination and advocating for policy changes surrounding the types of guns one can purchase. 

No one is immune to these threats, including Ivy League schools. For instance, as The Sun reported on Nov. 7, Cornell students were face-to-face with bomb threats, slammed with a total of 22 alerts urging students to evacuate central campus. The bomb was deemed a hoax, but only after students had evacuated. 

Social media plays an essential role in this. The Vox podcast Today, Explained, elaborated on how young kids become desensitized and radicalized to certain content through the internet. The social media algorithm is so specific and catered to what someone likes, looks at and shares to the point that it is shaping the brains of young kids who are on social media. 

My explore page on Instagram knows exactly what content I enjoy the most: it’s filled with dogs, cats, mental health motivational posts, feminist quotes and, most notably, Cornell merch. My TikTok For You page was telling me about my sexuality before I even knew it myself; my feed was flooded with videos that said “if you’re seeing this, you’re gay.” Think about if a kid is instead on a side of the internet that discriminates. The feed doesn’t know right from wrong. It will simply keep providing content related to the posts that a kid interacts with, even if the content is hateful and racist. These little moments of ignorance can build up and create a new kind of radicalization — one of the kinds fulfilled by school shooters whose pages are flooded with menacing content supporting their malicious intentions. 

However, when someone’s inner thoughts are sinister, the chaos falls into public display. According to the Associated Press, the Texas shooter had warning signs that were “lost in a sea of social media posts:” There was an Instagram photo of a hand holding a gun magazine, a TikTok profile warning, “Kids be scared,” and an image of two AR-style semi-automatic rifles placed on a rug, all pinned to the top of the killer’s Instagram page.”‘The warning signs of the killer’s mental illness took center stage, yet no one took him seriously or reported him, indicating that it’s likely he and his followers were conditioned to believe that such behavior was appropriate. 

These moments of radicalization create real-life violence perpetrated by race, hence why educating kids at a young age about social media and how to be non-discriminatory (rather than just banning them from the online world outright, as some propose) is essential. This, in conjunction with policy gun reform as a two-pronged approach, is a solid way to start changing the current social and political landscape that has placed more than 311,000 lives at risk (the number of students that have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine). 

For instance, at the recent shooting in Buffalo, NY, the shooter was radicalized by extremism. He was an 18-year-old who “wrote a racist manifesto and kept an online diary” detailing the racist intentions that he shared on Discord. NPR emphasized how some people calling the Buffalo suspect a “teenager” is “a privilege of his race;” if he was Black, would he still have been described as a teenager, or would it be as a young man? A journal article written in “Social Thought & Research” by William Mingus and Bradley Zopf notes how “White Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” regarding shootings.

Time reports that some countries have restricted assault weapons after just one mass shooting, including New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom and Australia. Unlike any other country globally, the U.S. has the “highest number of guns per capita,” and gun ownership is built-in to the nation’s identity in our Constitution. 

Nevertheless, changing how the Constitution is interpreted won’t violate the right to bear arms. The Constitution’s interpretation mandates that anyone can bear arms is outdated, created when local militias were a familiar concept and assault weapons did not exist. Today, nobody (outside of military forces) needs an AR-15 for hunting or several rounds of ammunition for anything mundane, especially an 18-year-old. We should not live in a world where parents have to kiss their kids goodbye before school and wonder if it will be the last. We should not live in a world where teachers have to run active shooter drills; they signed up to inspire a generation, not to prevent students from being killed at their desk.

America is not the land of the free if you can’t live without fear that the color of your skin determines your death date or that your last name makes you a target. I had a horrible panic attack during the Ivy bomb threats and thought it would be my last day, driving to get as far away from Kennedy Hall as possible, and I’m 18. What if that cruel hoax was real? What do you picture going through children’s minds when faced with a gun? Is it worth exchanging “traditional constitutional values” for children’s mental health and physical well-being? I think not.

Daniela Wise-Rojas is a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. She currently serves as Assistant Dining Editor on the 140th Editorial Board. Anything But MunDANIties runs periodically this summer.