On Feb. 13, my cousin, Troy Forbush, was sitting in an evening class at Michigan State University when a lone gunman entered the classroom and opened fire on the students from behind.
Before Troy was shot at point-blank range through his chest, he pleaded with the gunman, “Please don’t shoot me.”
As he lay bleeding on the floor, classmates rushed to his aid, while Troy somehow managed to grab his cell phone and dial his mother. She received the phone call, during which she heard Troy’s words: “I love you mom. I’ve been shot, there’s a shooter.”
In the background of the phone call, my aunt heard college-aged students mobilizing, helping to secure the classroom and tend to the wounded. She arrived at the school and abandoned her car at a police barricade before proceeding to run onto campus, in what was still an active shooter situation.
My aunt reached Troy as paramedics loaded him onto an ambulance, and later described his face as being the gray color of cement.
The ambulance rushed Troy to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing where, after more than three hours in emergency trauma surgery, doctors repaired four holes in one of his lungs and announced that he would survive.
Troy is home now but faces a long road of physical and emotional recovery. Not ironically, and quite heroically, this didn’t stop Troy from giving an impassioned speech at a March for Our Lives rally held at the Michigan State Capitol on March 23, just six weeks after he’d been shot and left fighting for his life.
The odds that I, a student in Utah, would be affected by the shooting at MSU were astronomically miniscule. But it happened, and shows it can truly happen to anyone. And I’m willing to go a step further and say that not only can it happen to anyone – it will.
Without comprehensive prevention measures taken in legislative houses across the nation, gun violence will eventually touch everyone in some form, whether it be a mass shooting, homicide or suicide.
I can now more clearly see that our society has become desensitized to mass shootings. This has spiraled into a full-blown health crisis, and we are numb to it. When the topic is brought up, people say that homicides and suicides are the problem; they’re more common, after all. But does that mean they’re mutually exclusive as issues?
I see misinformation and misunderstanding, and I hear students express that they need more education before they can form an opinion on gun violence prevention measures, so let me clear a few things up.
Definition and numbers
According to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), the shooting at MSU was the nation’s 71st mass shooting of 2023 despite having happened only two months into the year.
It’s important to note that there is no single consensus on the definition for a mass shooting. Congress defines “mass killing” when three or more people are killed by any means (Public Law 112-265), whereas the FBI, according to the RAND Corporation, uses the term “mass murderer” for someone who “kills four or more people in a single incident, not including himself.”
Neither case necessarily needs to involve a gun for classification. The GVA, however, defines “mass shooting” as an incident where a gunman shoots or kills four or more people.
Our government could reduce confusion by providing one clear definition of the term mass shooting; one that is aligned with and accepted by all government agencies. But, by the current GVA definition, 1.5 mass shootings happen every day in the United States.
Regardless of how you look at mass shootings, the number of gun deaths in this country is staggering. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 45,222 fire-arm related deaths occurred in the U.S. in 2020, almost as many in one year as the number of U.S. soldiers who died in the eight-year-long Vietnam War.
These issues can be handled with legislative action that regulates gun ownership and examines how the weapons industry’s profit goals, lobbying and certain legal loopholes determine the fate of legislation aiming to prevent gun violence.
Secure storage laws – which require guns to be stored locked and unloaded when any person prohibited from possessing a gun is present in the gun owner’s home – is one measure that can reduce gun violence.
“In incidents of gunfire on school grounds, up to 80% of shooters under the age of 18 got the gun from their home or the homes of friends or relatives,” writes nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety.
Utah Rep. Andrew Stoddard introduced a secure storage bill, HB354, during this year’s legislative session, but the House Judiciary Committee struck down the bill in a 3-7 vote. You can help by writing to your representatives ahead of the next legislative session to ensure it passes, at least to the House floor.
Another measure that can reduce gun violence is extreme risk laws, sometimes called “red flag” laws. Despite being hotly contested by some conservative ideologists, extreme risk laws help with crisis situations by preventing those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others from accessing guns.
“Extreme Risk laws … allow loved ones or law enforcement to intervene by petitioning a court for an order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns,” writes Everytown.
To further illustrate how extreme risk laws can help, it’s worth noting that the person responsible for the 2018 Parkland high school shooting, according to Everytown, “repeatedly displayed threatening behavior prior to the shooting [and] was reported to law enforcement on more than one occasion.”
As hard as it is to believe, private sellers in Utah are not required to perform background checks on their customers, and many of them operate within public and online gun shows. (Salt Lake County facilities must conduct background checks, however, per a directive from County Mayor Jenny Wilson.) Utah Gun Trader, for example, an online store, allows for the personal selling of firearms.
Background checks must be universal and reinforced by a stronger, more airtight procedure that lets no one fall between the cracks.
A 2021 review of CDC data found that guns surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death among children in America.
Do we still think this is a negligible issue? Do we value abstract ideas of individual liberties over the lives of real children and teens? Do we want future generations to grow up in war zones on their campuses, with constant fear wracking their brains as they attempt to learn and grow as individuals?
This is not a time to throw our hands up and proclaim that there’s not enough information out there to understand the issue. The education required may be disseminated poorly by the media and our leaders and politicians, but it’s there. Doing nothing would be a disservice to not only ourselves but also to the children who depend on us.
Because, after all, everything I’ve suggested and will suggest involves common sense, not radicalism. Legislation that prevents gun violence doesn’t affect responsible gun owners, and realistically should be accepted with anyone that has a grasp on the problem at hand.
If you want to learn more about Utah gun laws and what we can do better in this state, visit giffords.org. And don’t forget to contact your representatives – find out how to do so here. Let them know that you’d like to see secure storage and extreme risk protection bills as well as universal background checks put in place.
To keep track of violent gun deaths in the U.S., visit gunviolencearchive.org. The site is updated weekly.
I don’t believe we’ve reached a point of no return. We must be active, and we must be determined because lives are at stake. As my aunt Krista Grettenberger told the Michigan House Judiciary Committee on March 8, “Do you hear me?”
I and fellow student McCaulee Blackburn are currently forming Salt Lake Community College’s first-ever chapter of Students Demand Action, a grassroots organization affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety.
If you do hear me and want more information, consider following Everytown, March for Our Lives, Students Demand Action and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.