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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Within the first 15 days of the new year, there has already been one school shooting in the United States. A 17-year-old student opened fire at Perry High School in Iowa, shooting eight people Jan. 4. 

In the past two years, the areas surrounding Gainesville campuses saw both the Thanksgiving weekend shooting and the shootings at The Crossing. Both UF and Santa Fe College received hoax school shooting threat calls in 2023 as well. 

With 78% of undergraduate students at UF living off-campus and SF bearing no on-campus housing, gun violence statistics in college communities can be inaccurate. Because some college campuses are connected to surrounding communities, the exact number of school shootings can’t easily be tracked

Gunfire on school grounds has become increasingly relevant since spiking in 2018. 

According to Florida law, carrying guns at schools, colleges or athletic events is prohibited. Florida is also one of 38 states to adopt a no-guns mandate on college campuses. 

Despite this, in 2023, there were 136 incidents nationally of gunfire on school grounds, with five of those incidents occurring in Florida. No 2023 incidents happened on Gainesville campuses. 

Both UF and Santa Fe College students have concerns about campus safety. For some, the understanding of gun violence started in high school.

Connor Fosnow, a 19-year-old SF business sophomore, experienced active shooter drills at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida, when two separate students brought guns to campus within the same year. 

“Someone had a gun in the bathroom. I was just in math class,” Fosnow said. 

With the debate around teachers carrying guns and the availability of weapons, Fosnow said the situation is tricky.

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” he said. “If someone wants a gun, they’re going to find a way to get one regardless.” 

The influence of social media also has an effect on the perception of school shootings. 

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Some researchers cite the contagion effect theory, which suggests mass shootings happen in clusters, with greater media coverage playing a key role in future attacks. Student recordings of campus shootings posted to social media are linked to an increase in copycat threats. 

Fosnow has seen these videos and is concerned about them, he said.

“It's disturbing and sad,” he said.  

Chelsea Churuba, a 19-year-old UF nursing junior, also finds difficulty with seeing disturbing videos when they come onto her explore pages. 

“It’s very hard to process,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine something like that can happen. It puts you in a state of distress.”

The increased spread of school shootings published online leads to concerns of students’ mental health. UF students have access to the UF Counseling and Wellness Center including the “you matter, we care” program. At SF, there is a counseling center as well as a visiting therapy dog program.  

With the uptick in school shootings, 21-year-old UF economics junior Nico Cardenas said shootings aren’t regular, but still in the back of students’ minds.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a new normal, but it’s unfortunately something that is expected,” he said. “It’s just non-stop. You wish there could be something done to stop it.” 

Agreeing with Cardenas, 21-year-old UF nursing junior Hana Bouter emphasized the desensitized tone others use when talking about school gun violence. 

“When people discuss it and talk about it, it's so nonchalant because it happens so often now,” she said. 

Bouter lived just over an hour from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and attended high school the same year as its 2018 shooting. Because it was so close to home, she felt more affected seeing footage of that shooting, she said. 

“We held a lot of memorials after the Stoneman Douglas shooting,” she said. “We all had friends who went to that school.”

UF Police Department Sergeant Andrew McIntosh said the department’s top goal is to protect students and staff in the most effective and efficient way possible. 

“Our main focus has always been direct to threat,” he said. “Because for us, it’s about getting out there and stopping the threats so more students don’t get hurt.”

UPD’s biggest asset has been the community, with its use of the silent witness portal and the Gatorsafe app, McIntosh said. 

From more street lighting around campus to educating different departments on active shooting training, UPD has continued to work with the student body and the university.

“We’ll get the ball rolling and make changes to make our student population feel safe,” McIntosh said. “Whether it's an active assailant or it’s just getting home at night and not having access to whatever they need, we are open to ideas.”

In addition to providing UF with resources and improvements, UPD prioritizes practice and preparation for the event of a potential threat by conducting in-house training within buildings like P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.

“The forefront of our training is making sure that we are staying up to date on the latest skills, so that if that situation were to happen, we can quickly and swiftly cease any harm to our students,” McIntosh said.

Contact Sara-James Ranta at sranta@alligator.org and Emma Parker at eparker@alligator.org. Follow them on X @sarajamesranta and @emmaparkerg. 


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