Reading about the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the subsequent inaction on the part of the federal government would make any reasonable person want to pull a Tina Fey and scream into a sheet cake until they pass out. The sheer horror of the event, which killed over 50 people and injured hundreds, is overwhelming enough without having to go through yet another period in which the same cries for gun control measures are met with the same kind of shrugs from Congress, the White House and the NRA.
Echoing Scott Pruitt’s comments about the aftermath of a hurricane not being the time to discuss climate change, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the day after the shooting that it was not yet time to discuss “policy.” President Trump also deflected gun control questions when he traveled to Las Vegas to meet survivors. And even though the members of Congress are now discussing possible restrictions on the “bump stock” device the shooter used, in the greater context of all of the mass shootings that have happened in the past, their quivering cowardice when it comes to gun control would be laughable if it wasn’t the matter of real human death it actually is.
The most excruciatingly terrible part about this ridiculous repeated response is that the issue of gun violence is one that makes most people fear for their lives on a daily basis. This generation of students, especially, has grown up hearing about mass shootings often and thinking about escape routes from each classroom we sit in throughout the day. We think about survival skills because our leaders are not thinking about them for us. Even after the Sandy Hook school shooting, no orders came down from the top that made us feel any safer.
It is a certainty that many, if not all, DU students have thought about a mass shooting on campus at one time or another. A slamming door sets heart rates racing, windows that don’t open feel like a restriction of options. If the Las Vegas shooting does not prompt serious gun control measures, then student thinking will shift from if a school shooting happens to when a school shooting happens.
DU students, and people across the country, can turn to leaders at the federal level to ask for help, but if we have learned anything from the past it is that we will receive only thoughts and condolences and carefully arranged pitiful faces in return. We have to believe that this will change, but we can also take the step of looking to our local leaders, even our leaders here on campus.
DU’s Office of Emergency Preparedness has a page on their website outlining procedures for what to do in various active shooter situations, but this information is missing a very obvious component: how will students even know if there is an active shooter? Currently, DU’s emergency notification system involves email notifications as well as the option to register a phone number to receive call or text alerts. There are some major gaps in this system, however.
Email notifications are the only alerts that go out to everyone on campus, and the problems with this are obvious. Students are not checking their email before they leave the library at night to see if there is an active shooter. And though laptop use in class is common, we are not keeping an eye on our DU inbox in case of an emergency. The reasons why email should not be the primary form of emergency calls are too clear to have to spell out.
Texts and phone calls are clearly the better options, however, registering a cell phone number to the alert system is not required on campus. Registering a phone can be done through the MyWeb tab on PioneerWeb (please do this immediately), but it is not apparent why this is not mandatory, especially considering the university already has student cell phone numbers on file. We have our cell phones with us often, and if there is a shooter on campus, we are not going to be whistling a tune waiting for the email app to refresh. Several universities, including the University of Florida and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville already have an automatic text notification system, however, at most other universities, an opt-in is required to receive text alerts. Here at DU, and on campuses everywhere, signing up for cell phone alerts should absolutely be required.
But there are cases when we do not have our cell phones (please spare the attached-to-your-phones comments). Whether we are out for a run, in bed or simply have our phones silenced, there will be times when alerts do not reach us. In these events, a public-address system that is uniform in all buildings and dormitories as well as outdoors is needed. There are currently PA systems in some of the buildings on campus (the library closing is when it is most often heard), but a more centralized emergency system is a precaution that should be taken. At Virginia Tech, where a mass shooting in 2007 left over 30 people dead, an all-campus PA system is now in place in order to notify immediately of emergencies. These outdoor sirens are also in place at several other universities including Emory University and the University of Miami. DU should be next in taking this step.
These matters are urgent. There is nothing stopping someone who has somehow been able to stockpile weapons in the same way Stephen Paddock did from walking onto campus and shooting us. At DU, we can expand our notification system to reach as many students as possible. In the White House and Congress, our leaders can take note that while statements are made about this “not being the time,” the rest of us are fearing for our lives.