By Ainsley Trunkhill / Managing Editor of Content
In a small town in Oklahoma, just three hours from Hutchinson, lies a two-year college not unlike Hutchinson Community College.
Students participate in fundraisers, display school spirit at sporting events, and just this April a student was named a Coca-Cola Academic Team Gold scholar, a prestigious national recognition.
This community, however, will be remembered not for academics or athletics, but as a victim of a school shooting.
On Monday, a man entered the Rose State College campus with a gun, shooting and killing a 20-year-old student leaving class.
The recent shooting at Rose State, located in Midwest City, Okla., contributes to a culture of gun violence in the United States. Currently, 2023 has set a record pace for mass shootings, a trend that is uniquely American. From 1998 to 2019, no other developed nation saw more than eight incidents of mass shootings – except the United States, which had more than 100, according to a study published in CNN.
Another account, published in the Kansas Reflector, identified 366 school shootings since one in Columbine, Colo., in 1999. The closest country to the U.S. in terms of school shootings is Mexico, with eight.
“The trends of gun violence in the country is devastating,” said Gabriella Severud, a college freshman who has previously taken some classes through HutchCC. “There have been way too many mass shootings and the government has done nothing to prevent it from happening again. Children are dying and the government only cares about the money in their pocket.”
Severud expresses a fear for not just her own safety, but for her younger sister, who is currently a student at Hutchinson High School.
“Each year, I become more fearful about shootings and I fear for my younger sister, who is still in high school,” Severud said. “I’m afraid that one day my school or my sister’s will be next.”
Severud is not alone in her concerns either.
Jessi Conner, a South Hutchinson freshman at HutchCC, confessed to the same anxiety.
“Honestly, I don’t feel very safe,” Conner said. “It’s not something that I think about all the time while I’m at school, but I am consistently aware of the possibility and do worry about it a lot.”
Kansas offers few restrictions in terms of gun laws and experiences a rate of gun violence that falls above the national average. Kansas legislators actively work to maintain loose restrictions, including on college campuses. In 2021, Kansas legislators overrode Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a law allowing 18-20-year-olds to conceal carry loaded handguns in public without a permit, which translates to college campuses as well. According to the HutchCC 2022-2023 Student Handbook, however, students must be at least 21 years of age to conceal carry on campus.
Kansas, furthermore, does not require background checks for handgun purchases, does not require secure storage to prevent child access, does not ban assault-style weapons, does not ban ghost gun parts, does not ban high-capacity magazine purchases, does not ban conceal carry from individuals with an assault offense, and does not require school threat assessment teams.
Conner said that she believes Kansas lawmakers have “absolutely not” done an adequate job of addressing gun violence, specifically in schools.
“Politicians have done basically nothing to combat gun violence anywhere, let alone in school,” Conner said. “They consistently find excuses and ways to get around actually addressing the problem.”
Patrick Miller, a Hutchinson freshman, said he supports the Second Amendment but similarly recognizes that there must be restrictions.
“There are too many school shootings,” Miller said.
Kansas lawmakers are currently addressing gun violence in schools, though in a way critiqued by some. In February, the Kansas Senate voted 30-8 on a bill requiring the State Board of Education to approve a National Rifle Association and Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks gun-safety curriculum standard. Wichita Republican Senator Chase Blasi initiated the bill, citing memories of learning how to shoot with his dad.
Senators, furthermore, blocked three amendments to the bill proposed by Overland Park Democrat Senator Cindy Holscher. The amendments would have banned individuals from bringing a gun into a school for instruction, require safe storage of firearms, and ban class materials from including links to information about the NRA, including their messages to join and donate to their political positions.
Kelly Clasen, an English professor at HutchCC, said she believes that these policies alongside other Kansas policies do not “do an adequate job of addressing the problem.”
“Even if I were to receive firearms training, I don’t believe I would be adequately armed or trained to handle a situation in which an active shooter had an assault weapon on campus,” Clasen said.
In 2020 and 2021, HutchCC employees were given the opportunity to attend a Level One Fire Arms training, sponsored by the HutchCC Safety and Security Committee, including a session at a shooting range. Clasen chose not to attend.
“I have felt for many years that if I am ever asked to carry a weapon while teaching — or feel I cannot continue teaching safely without carrying a firearm — that will be the day I leave academia,” Clasen said.
Regardless of how it is addressed, gun violence, specifically in schools, remains on the minds of students, educators, and politicians nationally. From a young age, students participate in active school shooter drills, read continuous headlines depicting the tragedies, and in unfortunate circumstances, experience the tragedies themselves.
Students Patrick Miller, Jessi Conner, and Gabriella Severud all believe the conversation is relevant.
“If you go to any school, it’s relevant,” Miller said. “When it comes to education, it doesn’t matter what level, it’s relevant.”