Content warning: This story includes discussion of gun violence and mass shootings. The fear of gun violence haunts many Gen Z youth, particularly those within the school system. Fear affects not only the mental health of most students, but also their ability to learn in a safe and welcoming environment. According to a 2018 American Psychological Association study on stress-inducing situations in America, 75% of Gen Zers report mass shootings as a significant source of stress, with 72% reporting school shootings in particular as a consequential source of stress.
According to additional research conducted as part of the study, more than half of Gen Z youth who are in school say they experience stress at least occasionally when considering the possibility of a shooting at their school, and more than one in five say the possibility of a shooting at their school is a source of stress either constantly or frequently.
Gen Z is deeply aware of the importance of understanding gun violence prevention, and the majority believe that stricter gun laws should be enacted. According to a national poll of Americans aged 18 to 29 conducted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) at the Kennedy School of Government, 70% of young Americans likely to vote in the 2018 midterm elections believe that gun control laws in the United States should be stricter.
The stats speak for themselves, and that’s why Gen Zers are using their voices to speak up on the issue of gun violence prevention. Her Campus asked 13 current college students why gun violence prevention is important to them, and why they believe Gen Z should be active participants in the movement.
The following responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Jordyn, 22, University of Colorado Boulder
“I’m only 22 years old, and I’ve already had two mass shootings occur extremely close to where I live (Aurora, Colorado in 2012 and Boulder in 2021). Almost everyone I know feels scared to go grocery shopping, to school, to a movie theater, or anywhere else. Our generation is being impacted by mass shootings more than any before, and we are so tired of feeling scared and helpless. We need to be active participants against gun violence because we don’t want any further generations to feel the pain that we have.”
McKinley, 21, East Carolina University
“We’re the next generation that will hold the power to make such influential decisions. We are the next wave of politicians, advocates, and citizens in general that have the largest impact on what gun violence prevention will look like going forward in the U.S.”
Hannah, 21, Florida State University
“Gun violence has affected how we live. Some of us can’t think of going to school or attending a parade without the fear of gun violence occurring. This shouldn’t be our reality, and by getting involved in gun violence prevention protests, legislative discussions, or speaking to our politicians, we can make change.”
Noelia, 20, California State University, Chico
“I feel like [the threat of mass shootings] induced anxiety amongst students on campus, and could disrupt the ability to learn or feel safe on your campus. I’ve gotten messages from my school to shelter in place due to a potential gunman. Personally, my anxiety has heightened due to the lack of gun control and security in the country.”
Alicia, 22, California State University, Long Beach
“By including ourselves in this current historical narrative, we aren’t being left out of the conversation, or just protesting to protest; we are actually getting bills passed and encouraging our elected officials to represent us in the way we deserve to be. If you think your voice doesn’t matter, I’m here to tell you that it does. One post on social media can go viral, one poster you draw for a protest can make waves, and one thing you say to someone else can change their point of view and therefore their life. Your involvement matters, and it is needed for us to pass stricter legislation so that we can take these weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of everyday people. They are made for war and nothing else. Together, let’s change the norm and make owning guns something people view as being not OK, instead of something for sport or to show status.”
Kayleigh, 22, Glendale Community College
“We’ve grown up with the fear of public shootings, and can’t really go anywhere without having to look for exit signs or what we should do in case a shooting happens. Not only that, but our generation is the next generation that can really make a difference, so it’s important that we stand up.”
Mckenzie, 20, California State University, Stanislaus
“Someone has to do it, so why not us? We are part of the new world and we can make a change together. Our futures are in our hands because no previous generation will stand up, so it’s important for us to fight.”
Diana, 19, San Jose State University
“This year alone, there have been a little over  mass shootings.”
Anna, 21, San Jose State University
“Based on what I’ve seen on social media, in school, and in other forms of media, I believe that Gen Z has the most potential and capability in spreading awareness about the importance of gun violence prevention through protests, legislative discussions, and other means.”
Sabrina, 20, University of California, Davis
“It is important to be a union toward one goal to act as a powerful force. Gen Z is the future of the country and we have to act as one to prevent the influx of gun violence-related headlines.”
Abby, 20, Point Loma Nazarene University
“Guns will only become more accessible as this generation grows older. There will be more potential for gun violence if we do not do something to stop it.”
Bryanna, 21, Baldwin Wallace University
“1. Clearly the elected adults aren’t capable of fixing the issue. 2. It’s happening in our schools, our siblings’ schools, and eventually, it’ll happen in our children’s schools. We are all potential victims, so it only makes sense that we are part of the solution, as we are the only ones that know what true justice looks like.”
Rachel, 23, St. John’s University
“I believe Gen Z should be active voices for gun violence prevention because gun violence is a leading cause of premature death within the United States. Whether we are aware of it or not, it affects us and how we live our daily lives. We must speak up for gun prevention for the sake of future generations to come.”
Right now, Gen Z can be active participants in the fight for gun violence prevention by supporting and following activists in this space or by supporting gun violence prevention measures as college students. “Donate to big charities such as March for Our Lives,” McKinley explains. “Support politicians who support gun control, such as Maxwell Frost. Spread the word about their campaigns and vote!” Hannah adds. If Gen Zers take these measures, Gen Z can truly be a force for change.