Why you should care
Students of color are responding to threats of gun violence in ways White students don’t.
The University of Arizona graduate student says she doesn’t think about school shootings while walking around campus. That that needs to be said is troubling, actually. But it is true that the Hispanic music lover has chosen not to go to some concerts and festivals, out of concerns for her safety. “I don’t think I’m going to be personally targeted,” says the Arizona student, who asked for her name not to be used in order to speak freely about the contentious issue. “But if my chances in a mass shooting were 1 in 50 of being shot, I wouldn’t want to risk being that one.”
She isn’t the only one concerned. A new survey of almost 5,000 undergraduates found that more than 6 in 10 students — 62 percent — worry a mass shooting could happen at their school. What’s more …
Nearly half of Hispanic, African American and Asian students are likely to avoid crowded places or go out less often in order to feel safer.
That’s compared to just 34 percent of White students, according to research by College Pulse, an online survey and analytics company focused on understanding the attitudes and preferences of American college students. And it paints a disparate picture between the fears of White and minority students regarding shootings. “A lot of the mass shootings have racial or cultural motivations,” the Arizona student says, mentioning the Walmart shooting that targeted Mexicans in El Paso and the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand. “It is on your mind: ‘I might be the next demographic.’”
Ethnicity wasn’t the only major differentiator. “There is a huge gender gap,” notes Dan Cox, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow who worked with College Pulse on the survey. College women were more likely than men to support virtually every gun control policy proposition, from banning high capacity magazines to instituting greater background checks. “Women tend to be more sensitive of public safety issues generally, in part because they are more likely to be the victims — when you look at domestic violence cases or these other acts of violence where guns are used,” Cox says. In fact, only 28 percent of male students say they’re somewhat or very likely to avoid public places due to safety concerns, compared to 49 percent of female students.
There is a political component: Minority students are more likely, as a whole, to support the Democratic Party, which has emphasized concerns about unfettered gun access. Becca Triplett, a White senior at the University of Louisville who has been more nervous about attending large events like Pride parades, says students of color could associate shootings with another type of gun violence. “People of color are targeted more by police. So they may think that if they go to a protest, they may be targeted by anti-protestors or the police.”
There may be a cultural aspect as well, Cox suggests. “White Americans overall, and this is true among college students, are more likely to be gun owners — and more likely to be from parts of the country where there is a culture of gun ownership, and so may be more comfortable around firearms and less worried about being a victim of a shooting,” says Cox. About 36 percent of White people in the U.S. personally own a gun, according to the Pew Research Center, compared to 24 percent of Black Americans and 15 percent of Hispanics.
That explanation makes sense to Reise, a Korean American junior at Andrews University. Growing up in Oklahoma and Texas, “everyone and their mother has a gun,” Reise says. For that reason, he feels comfortable around them, having shot skeet with his uncles growing up and planning to buy a pistol of his own once he graduates — although he understands how someone who grew up elsewhere might be more uncomfortable. “How are guns portrayed? You only see them in video games or movies to shoot people, or on cops,” he says.
While he understands why people worry, Reise notes that people are much likelier to die in a car accident than in a shooting. “It’s horrific when it happens, but it’s not as common of a thing,” he says. Rather than gun control — which he believes would be unenforceable with the advent of 3D printing anyway — he would like to see news outlets take the glory away from shooters instead. “We almost allow the terrorists to get their way, with the fearmongering that comes from the way we report it,” he says.
On that note, he is in the minority (on campuses, anyway). Roughly three-fourths of students believe guns should be more restricted than they are, according to the College Pulse study, with 94 percent supporting universal background checks and 69 percent saying they would support bans of assault-style weapons. That extends to politics as well: 59 percent also said they were “less likely” to back strong supporters of the National Rifle Association. “It’s not just that they support these more restrictive policies,” Cox says. “It’s also that an alignment with the NRA can be harmful for a potential candidate.”