As of Wednesday, there have been at least 166 mass shootings out of the 109 days in 2023 and 12,621 gun-related deaths in the U.S., according to the Gun Violence Archive.
On April 3 and 4, New Jersey colleges Rider University and St. Elizabeth University, respectively, experienced threats of gun violence and shelter-in-place mandates.
Rider’s public safety “received an anonymous phone call threatening gun violence on Rider’s campus,” according to News@Rider, which prompted a 52-minute shelter in place. It was later deemed a “swatting event” or false threat.
St. Elizabeth’s shelter-in-place lasted nearly three hours, according to the Daily Record, after a man near campus reported a disturbing interaction with a nearby suspect who possibly had a weapon. There was no found subject or firearm.
In light of these local instances and recurring mass gun violence at large, The Ramapo News conducted a campus survey with four questions on gun ownership and violence. The survey also asked for demographics such as race, gender and political affiliation.
Although our findings are only a small sample size of 80 students, their answers were interesting, nonetheless. Responses came from in-person interviews and an online Google Form. Most answers were anonymous, but students had the option to identify their name and year if they chose to do so. The questions and our results are as follows:
Do you or anyone you live with own a gun?
Nearly 1 out of 5, or 19% of students said they own or live with someone who owns a gun, and 81% do not. Of that 19%, 40% identified as male and 60% identified as female.
All of the men were white, and 33% were Democrats while 66% were Republicans. Of the women, 66% were white, 22% were Hispanic/Latino and white, and 11% were Hispanic/Latino. Of the white women, two were Democrats, two were Independent, one was Republican and one did not share. Both of the Hispanic/Latino and white women were Republicans and the Hispanic/Latina woman identified herself as an environmentalist.
Our limited findings suggest that more female Ramapo students live in homes with firearms than male Ramapo students, contrary to the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center (GVRC) at Rutgers University, which found in their “2022 Report on Firearms in New Jersey” that “men are nearly twice as likely as women to live in a home with firearms.”
GRVC also shared that “Individuals who identify as White are far more likely than others to live in homes with firearms,” which our findings represent. 24% of white adults in NJ live in homes with firearms, whereas only 11.3% of Black adults, 13.3% of Hispanic adults and 15.2% of other races live in homes with firearms.
Similar to our results, GVRC reported “approximately 1 in 5 New Jerseyans (18+) live in homes where firearms are typically kept.” That is a total of 1.45 million adults.
Has the recurring gun violence in America impacted your stance on owning a gun?
Nearly 2 out of 3 or 63.3% of students said the recurring gun violence in America has impacted their stance on gun ownership. 30.4% said it has not affected their opinion, while 6.3% said “yes and no.”
The majority of those who said “yes” shared that it has strengthened their pro-gun control stance and belief that the U.S. needs to find ways to reduce gun violence and mass shootings.
“I’ve considered getting a license to carry to make sure my family is safe. This is the first time I’ve considered that,” senior adult student Justin Chernick said, who is white and Independent but leans Democratic. A few other students shared they are now considering owning a gun or want to own one for protection.
Studies have shown for years that gun and ammunition sales spike after mass shootings. According to an article from Observer, this is “fueled by a raised awareness of self defense and a fear that gun control legislation would make it more difficult to purchase weapons.”
Some students who said “no” to our question shared that they have been firm on their stances against reckless gun ownership for a while, and the recurring gun violence in America hasn’t changed their opinion.
One senior — a conservative Hispanic/Latina woman — said, “New Jersey has one of the safest gun ownership laws, and I personally will take the steps to be one of those safe gun owners. In other states though with looser gun laws, it does worry me that there are not stricter ways to buy and own a firearm.”
Other students in later questions mentioned New Jersey’s safety surrounding gun ownership. The state currently has the lowest number of registered gun owners, ranking 50th in the country, according to the World Population Review. GVRC states that the average annual number of deaths from firearms in New Jersey is 475.
Last week, Rider University and St. Elizabeth University, both NJ schools, experienced active shooter threats and rumors. In addition to the continual mass school shootings across the country, this shows that NJ schools are not immune to the threat of mass gun violence. Have these local occurrences changed your perspective on gun ownership and gun accessibility? Why?
About 28% of students shared that these local incidents helped them realize that shootings can happen anywhere. One senior — a white and female Democrat — said, “When it’s in your own state, in an institution similar to ours, it gives you a new insight.”
Another white female senior, who identifies as an Independent, said “It makes things more scary. When it happens out in the middle of nowhere, you feel like it can’t happen in your own backyard.”
“Knowing it was so close to our school makes me feel even more vulnerable, like any minute that could happen here,” a Hispanic/Latina female and Independent senior said. She said she migrated to the U.S. to escape violence to “have a better life, but it’s going downhill. It’s horrible, it’s crazy. It feels like everyone can own a gun.”
Four students shared that they either have a sibling or close friends who attend Rider, and they expressed how scared both they and the Rider students were. Four students shared that they had no idea either university endured these instances.
Are there any ways you think Ramapo can improve campus to be better prepared if a similar event were to happen?
About 79% of students said Ramapo could improve its safety, and many offered suggestions for how it could be better prepared for danger. The most common responses included getting more public safety officers, holding active shooter drills, requiring active shooter training, adding more security cameras and being more restrictive of who can enter the campus parking lots and buildings.
Many of these concerns have been a topic of discussion on campus since the fall semester. A change.org petition received nearly 4,000 signatures after a student was abducted at knifepoint in her car in the commuter lot. In an interview with The Ramapo News last week, Director of Public Safety Sharon McLaurin and Assistant Chief Will Holmes said they have been working to improve campus security and preparedness.
McLaurin said since January, they have hired three more officers and are currently in the process of hiring a fourth. No more Emergency “Blue Light” Callboxes have been added, but the 48 spread across campus continue to be regularly checked. McLauren also said “on campus [there are] over 70 emergency phones” found inside buildings and in the parking deck.
Holmes said there are typically two phones next to each other, or just one, that can be used to call Public Safety by dialing their extension number 6666 or it will automatically call them once someone picks up the phone. The Ramapo News could not find any online sources describing these phones or their locations.
In terms of improving access to campus, McLaurin said “the fact that we are a state run institution, we have to afford ourself as a public setting… There’s clear direction of what visitors should be doing when they’re entering campus, and that’s going through our booth up front… The gate arm will not open unless they stop at the booth and specify their purpose here.” She also said they have increased patrols at the South Gate.
Public safety also offers A.L.I.C.E (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) active shooter training for those who wish to participate. Students and staff can attend trainings held by Public Safety, or groups can register for their own training course.
They said there have been discussions about mandating training. “It’s kind of hard to mandate people to come to that when it could affect them emotionally [and] mentally,” Holmes said. “But we are in the process of making it more accessible. We are in the process of trying to create an online presentation portion.” He hopes offering the presentation online and only doing the scenarios in person will increase turnouts.
“Attempts are being made to improve the quality of the program and make it more attractive for participation. Sadly, we don’t have a strong participation,” McLaurin said. “So outside of mandating it, it really is for the individual to take ownership and be a part of us operating as a safe community.”
Even with the efforts and suggestions from students and Public Safety, most participants understand that there is still only so much the school and state can do to alleviate gun violence. Echoing what one student said, “anything Ramapo could do would be a mere band-aid” for an issue much larger than shootings itself.
Graphics by Shannon Charvat & Care Granholm