[CHAPEL HILL, NC, USA]
Do you remember the first day of school? I mean when you were young, a kid, in elementary school. I remember the nervous energy of a new class and all the kids you were still getting to know. Did your best friend get assigned to your class? Would your teacher be nice? I could hardly wait to go home at the end of that day, like everyone else, to tell everyone about the first day.
What about university? Can you recall the first weeks you spent on campus? That fresh feeling at the beginning of fall semester, the air just beginning to cool, everyone relaxed from the summer and filled with a special kind of energy – you have only just moved on to campus, only just started classes, only just started meeting everyone. Those weeks are so full of promise and potential – and fun.
I mention this because that was the scene here in Chapel Hill, NC on August 28th, at around 1 in the afternoon. All of Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools (K-12) were on their first day of school. At UNC Chapel Hill, home to around 30,000 students, it was the first day of the second week of school, and classes were just getting started. The times may have changed, but I bet the way we felt back at those times in our lives wasn’t so different from the humming back-to-school vibe in Chapel Hill that day.
But changed they have, the times. This year, the day was shattered when a UNC graduate student entered one of the campus buildings with a gun and proceeded to shoot and kill his academic adviser.
The people in the building where the killing took place (where a friend and neighbor of ours works), were quickly evacuated by police. By 1:30 PM the entire UNC system – the University and the Hospital – had been put on lockdown. All students were issued an immediate warning to go indoors and lock themselves in. Local bus service was suspended. And, all Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools were also placed on lockdown, and children were not allowed to leave the building and be released to their parents until several hours later that afternoon.
I saw the first headlines about the shooting and lockdown around 2:30 PM, and my first thought was of course to my wife, who works at UNC. Her office is nowhere near that area, but her work frequently takes her to the hospital. She could have been right around the corner from the shooting for all I knew. It turned out that she was merely confined to her office, like everyone else in the UNC system.
Everyone, that is, except for the unfortunate professor who was shot dead, another sad example of how normal it has become in this country to solve one’s grievances with a gun.
There’s the guy in Texas who went to a bar and shot and killed his soon-to-be ex-wife (divorce pending, or at least it was), and just to prove how upset he was, killed a couple of guys in the bar too. This was just last week. Or the guy who went to a Dollar store in Florida and shot three people dead (chasing others around the store and missing them, only managing to hit the first and last people he saw before killing himself, I suppose as a martyr to his white supremacist ideology) because “he hated black people”. Then there’s the guy who shot and killed a child for chasing a ball into his front yard. People are getting shot for ringing the doorbell at the wrong house, or turning around in the wrong driveway, or accidentally trying to get in the wrong car in a parking lot… The list just goes on and on.
These are all recent news stories from around the country, but I admit, at this point it’s old news. The growing epidemic of gun violence in the US is there for anyone who even glances at the headlines to see. This is our reality, and as far as gun ownership in this country goes, I don’t see any way back. The mythology among American gun owners and the right about the government, the ‘left’ and the ‘deep state’ coming to seize their guns is so entrenched, and is so repeatedly stoked, that any effort to restrict gun ownership would be disastrous.
But don’t take my word for it. Look no further than US country singer Jason Aldean’s recent hit song, Try That in a Small Town, which, as The Guardian points out, “also alludes to a conspiracy theory that the US government plans to round up its citizens’ guns: “Got a gun that my granddad gave me / They say one day they’re gonna round up / Well, that shit might fly in the city, good luck”.”
Many years ago, back in the innocent days when I was a younger man in Chapel Hill, I was inspired by something I read and wrote an article in the local paper advocating banning bullets, much for the same reasons I mention above. It seemed like the only viable option even thirty years ago, never mind the overwhelming number of guns out in the population now. The gun culture is nothing new here. But what is new in the past few years is the open public vigilantism, where more and more people seem to feel entitled to settling their differences, or expressing their opinions with guns, and not just by showing how proud they are to own them and carry them, but by actually using them to kill those they disagree with or feel aggrieved by.
That’s the sad lesson tens of thousands of students learned as school started here in North Carolina this week, locked down in their classrooms, in the dark and afraid, and far from home.
|Emergency: Police report an Armed and Dangerous Person On or Near Campus August 28, 2023 – 1:03 pm|
Police report an Armed and Dangerous Person On or Near Campus
|!Alert Carolina! Emergency–Update: Stay sheltered in place until all clear. All classes & events cancelled for today. August 28, 2023 – 3:14 pm|
!Alert Carolina! Emergency–Update: Stay sheltered in place until all clear. All classes & events cancelled for today.
|!Alert Carolina! Emergency – Update: Remain sheltered in place. This is an ongoing situation. Suspect at large. August 28, 2023 – 2:24 pm|
!Alert Carolina! Emergency – Update: Remain sheltered in place. This is an ongoing situation. Suspect at large.
|UNC Issues All Clear. Classes canceled remainder of the day. Avoid Caudill Labs August 28, 2023 – 4:26 pm|
An All-Clear has been issued by UNC Police. The shelter in place has been lifted. Please remain away from Caudill Labs while UNC Police continues to investigate.