School shooting sparks discussions about guns on campus

The recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, has prompted discussions about gun violence and safety on college campuses. WCU journalism class students interviewed each other to make this story.  

At the barrel of a shotgun. Photo by Hunter Bryn.

At the barrel of a shotgun. Photo by Hunter Bryn.


“Every time an incident like this happens, it hits home for me. Even though I don’t know the people who were killed, I’m still taken back and hurt because they are students just like me. Like, what if that were to happen here at Western,” WCU junior, Taylor Harbison said. “For the most part I do feel safe on campus, but anything could happen, so I make sure that I am always aware of my surrounding,” Harbison added.

In the class of around 20 students almost all said that WCU is a safe place and having an active shooter is unlikely thing to happen.

“I’ve never felt, walking around campus, like someone is going to shoot me. Everyone here is generally really nice and down to earth,” said Meghan O’Sullivan. However, as she added, in the back of her mind it lingers— “it’s always a possibility.”

Julia Hudgins is like O’Sullivan. She feels safe, but cautious.

“We’re here to learn and how are we supposed to get any kind of education or really focus on anything if in the back of our minds, there’s always ‘how safe am I in my dorm, how safe am I in my classes?’” Hudgins said.

“I feel comfortable on the campus of Western because the community of people is smaller and law enforcement can crack down faster than in bigger communities,” said Alexey Rybakov, international transfer student from Russia. He explained further that in a smaller community you can notice unusual behavior from an individual that could lead to violence towards another person because everyone sees that person on a constant basis than in larger settings where people can get lost in the bigger communities. Similarly David Johnson is also counting on the security on the campus.

Just to put it in a context to the latest shooting in Roseburg. Umpqua Community College  is about 180 miles south of Portland, and has 3000 students. WCU is also a small school, with 10,382 students, and is only 156 miles from Atlanta. WCU and Umpqua CC could easily be compared.
According to an interactive graph published in Slate Magazine from 1998 until 2012, Sandy Hook shooting, 297 people are killed in some kind of education institutions – from elementary school to college. There has been 74 school shootings since Newtown killing of 20 school kids at Sandy Hook School. Only a week after the Umpqua Community College tragedy, there was shooting on the campus of Northern Arizona University that left one dead and three wounded.

“It’s sad that we’ve had to develop a kind of survival instinct that prepares ourselves for a shooting before we’ve even seen any signs or ideas of it happening here, but you never know,” student Haley Smith said.

With the increasing instances of gun violence in the past year, what can be done to stop these tragedies from repeating themselves?

This was one of the questions that students tried to answer.

“I knew [the shooting in Oregon] happened, but I didn’t really look much into it. It’s really sad that I can scroll through Facebook and see that there was a school shooting and not really think much of it because it happens so often,” said O’Sullivan. “Personally, I feel like there should be regulations on who can or can’t have a gun, but it’s kind of a sticky situation because I don’t know how it’s possible to stop school shootings from happening.”

“I feel like if we put gun laws out there, it is going to make it even worse and it doesn’t matter because people will get guns anyways,” said student Becca Ross.

David Johnson strongly believes that people in U.S. must be forbidden to wear guns because they can go to wrong hands.  People with guns make him feel very uncomfortable because he does not know what to expect from those people.  Hudgins also thinks something needs to change. Even though it would be difficult to change anything, she says when we have so many incidents and people dying, it’s past time to look at how “we as a culture see and use guns.”

“In America there could be a lot more issues when it comes to gun control because as soon as you make something illegal, it instantly comes more of an issue than it already was. Such as underage drinking and drug use prevalence,” Sam Cook, junior at Western Carolina University, said. She mentioned her friend from Iceland and the fact that school shootings are not something that happens there often. “What does that say about our country where it happens more than once every 6 months? Obviously they are doing something right,” Cook added.

In Smith’s opinion, people have a right to own a gun, but people also have a right to say that guns should be banned, she is more in the middle about gun control itself. She does believe that there should be more emphasis on warning signs that a shooting may happen, since a lot of the past shooters have premeditated their ideas and plans, some even bragging about them on social media, but no one reported them beforehand.

Kayla Brookshire, a 21-year-old senior, has done her fair share of research and believes that guns do us more bad than good in the world. As a Southern girl she is comfortable around guns.  Several of her family members own guns, use them for hunting and her brother keeps one on him in his car for protection. Yet, she herself does not own one and takes no particular interest in owning one.

“I think that guns are, unfortunately, a necessity because if we do not have guns it would be easy for the government to take advantage of us. There is a sense of mistrust in the government, and if guns are taken away from us than at any given point in time they could turn their backs on us and could cause anarchy. At the same time people who want guns should have to undergo a certain mental test before being given the weapon,” said Brookshire.

“I feel like the gun laws are OK, but there definitely needs to be more limitation and more knowledge about guns, as well as stricter laws,” says Junior, Will Richards. According to Harbison guns are “too easy to access for teens.”

“There needs to be more screenings and a more extensive process. People can literally just buy guns on impulse,” added Harbison.

Several students said that they see the guns as a mean to defend themselves.

“I do want the ability to defend myself, if we are going to have people running around with guns,” Chad Grant, said. He added that criminals do not respect laws, so limiting them will not make any difference. Grant does lean to the side that if citizens who pass the background checks, application process, and pass the gun safety courses, should be allowed to carry their weapons in public, which would in turn lower the chance of becoming a statistical victim.

Jonathan Lagrotteria supports an open carry, which allows people to carry in most public places. He referenced Texas as being a state that uses this policy and thinks that the same policy should be used throughout the country. LaGrotteria wants to make getting a permit to own a gun easier and shorten the current process throughout the nation.

Texas recently passed a law allowing open carry of handguns. With it it became the 45th U.S. state to allow licensed citizens to carry handguns openly in public. Texas also passed a law (SB11) that lifts a ban on concealed handguns at university campuses. The law starts implementation in August 2016 and will essentially allow students to carry handguns in the classrooms. North Carolina passed similar law in 2013 that allows concealed weapons inside bars and restaurants serving alcohol and on college and school campuses, provided they are locked in vehicles.

“We shouldn’t limit law-abiding citizens from buying guns,” said LaGrotteria.

Calvin Inman, a junior at WCU believes that it should be tougher for some people to be able to get guns but he admits that is a hard thing to get done.

“That’s like saying you want to get rid of bullying,” he said. He also believes the government has done little to fix the problem thus far. “There are so many different opinions on the issue. Everyone tries to push their own agenda.”

Inman believes that the main issue is making sure the right people have guns.

“If we do our job and make sure the right people have the guns then we will not have to worry about what guns to regulate.” Even though gun control is a huge issue in our country, as of late, Inman says he would still own a gun. “Yea, I would own a gun. Guns are really good value so you could probably buy one at Wal-Mart and sale it for twice its worth.”

Zane Perkins believes there is a need for guns in use of defense, but thinks there should be tougher background checks. Perkins does not believe that the form of protection has to be a large weapon, such as an assault rifle, either.

“Probably, I’m not that big of a gun guy, but I’m not like against owning one I guess,” Perkins said. “Just for …defense. Just in case.”

What’s your number?


O’Sullivan said she has lost two loved ones to gun violence through suicide and drugs. Julia is the same, and so are Cook and Ross, and Perkins, and Inman, and Rybakov, Brookshire, Smith, Richards, Harbison, Grant….

David Johnson, a junior student at WCU, said he had seen people been shot in the past, and now he knows what pain is. Seven deaths! Among them he talks mostly about his cousin who was killed several years ago.
“My cousin was shot by unknown people on the way to home. A bit later he died,” said Johnson.

For O’Shay Massey it’s two – a family. Her uncle who was shot in the leg during a car robbery, and also her cousin who was shot 12 times in the back during a home robbery and survived.

“It’s just amazing because they always tell their story about how they were shot, and no one was expecting them to live. I haven’t been effected by mass shootings but it still hits home because of what I’ve been thorough personally,” Massey said. As she explained she’s been around gun violence and has been affected by it her whole life.

Two of Lagroterria friends died. They killed themselves with the guns who were owned by their families.

The discussion on guns and their regulation will continue and will increase during the election season. Do you think something will change and what?

Related stories: 

Residents of Jackson County weigh in on gun ownership

What is your number? A conversation on guns in America

The story was put together by the class instructor, Katerina Spasovska, and edited by WCJ editor-in-chief, Hunter Bryn.