Lane Murdock sometimes finds herself preemptively looking for emergency exits even though she now lives and studies in a country where mass shootings are rare.
More than five years after leading a national student walkout following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the 21-year-old from Connecticut occasionally looks for open windows and other potential escape routes around her Scottish university campus.
“Most of America is still having to deal with daily mourning,” Murdock said of her native country, where nearly 1,500 children and teens have been killed by a gunfire so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
“It’s devastating, and I sometimes feel guilty that I’ve been able to leave, but I wake up every morning grateful that I have.”
These include at least 69 school shootings this year, as of October 28. At least 33 people have died and more than 77 injured in those shootings, according to CNN’s analysis of events reported by the Gun Violence Archive, Education Week, and Everytown for Gun Safety.
Firearms are now the No. 1 killer of children and teens in America, surpassing motor vehicles accidents, which had been the leading cause of death among youth until 2020.
“It makes me call into question the work I did,” Murdock, now 21, said in a phone interview from Edinburgh, referring to her anti-gun violence activism in high school.
“We’ve got a cultural issue in America… This is about the very fabric of what it means to be American. And unfortunately, that identity is tied to gun violence, and it’s also tied to gun ownership.”
‘Shared trauma’ over mass shootings
Murdock was a high school sophomore in Ridgefield, Connecticut, on Valentine’s Day in 2018 when a young man opened fire at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 14 students and three teachers.
She came up with a plan for students to walk out of school in protest on April 20, 2018, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
Murdock’s Change.org petition for the walkout was noticed far beyond Ridgefield, which is less than 30 minutes from Sandy Hook, where 20 elementary school students and six staff members were gunned down in 2012.
“That America’s children are growing up in fear is something we’re not talking about,” Murdock, then 16, told CNN at the time. “No child should have to learn how to hide from a shooter.”
More than 2,500 schools from New England to Hawaii participated in the walkout, along with American students at Oxford and Cambridge universities in England and high schoolers in the US island territory of Guam, according to organizers.
The walkout coincided with a burgeoning movement led by survivors of the Parkland massacre – who took to the streets of Washington, DC, for a massive March For Our Lives calling for reform.
The larger movement’s immediate impact was perhaps best illustrated by legislation passed across the country: 67 new gun laws were enacted by both Republican and Democratic legislators in 26 states and Washington, DC, according to a late 2018 report by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Still, on May 24, 2022, came another grim reminder of America’s failure to protect its children from guns: 19 fourth graders and two teachers were fatally shot inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
“As Americans we have a shared trauma around these mass shootings that the rest of the world just cannot relate to,” Murdock said.
She’s living in a ‘whole other world’
In August 2020, Murdock moved to Scotland to study public relations at Edinburgh Napier University, where she has adopted a slight Scottish accent. She works in a pub and shares an apartment with four roommates.
“I was really burned out,” she said of life in the US. “The walkout was this amazing, difficult learning experience, and I was ready for a change after it. I was ready to leave America for a multitude of factors. Tuition is expensive. Health care is expensive. It’s a dangerous place.”
In Scotland, Murdock said, young people don’t even think about gun violence.
In fact, 52 homicides were recorded in Scotland in 2022-23, according to the most recent Scottish government statistics.
The weapon of choice for criminals in Scotland – a nation of 5.4 million people – is the knife.
A sharp instrument was the top method of killing in 2022-23 – 58%, or 30 victims. Three homicides involved guns, according to the government statistics.
Scottish authorities report that the biggest drop in homicides over the last 20 years was among 16- to 24-year-olds. Between 2003-04 and 2007-08, there were 126 victims in that age group. In the last five years, there were 24.
The deaths of 16 5- and 6-year-olds together with their teacher at a school in the Scottish town of Dunblane in 1996 was one of the United Kingdom’s worst incidents of gun-related violence. A 43-year-old man with four handguns stormed the schoolhouse gym in a three-minute shooting rampage.
Public outcry prompted political action the following year – the government banned the private ownership of all handguns on Britain’s mainland.
“It’s a whole other world,” Murdock said. “After Dunblane … they got the laws in place and it’s completely changed the course of all these young people’s lives. All my peers do not have the same anxiety and fears I grew up with, and still have.”
More powerful guns had already been banned after a mass shooting in southern England’s Hungerford in 1987, in which a 27-year-old man killed 16 people, as well as himself, in an hours-long rampage. He was armed with a pistol, a hand grenade and an automatic rifle.
There have been two mass shootings in the country since the laws were tightened. In 2010, a lone gunman killed 12 people in a four-hour shooting spree in rural Cumbria, northern England. In 2021, five people were killed by a gunman in Plymouth, southwest England.
Murdock lamented that similar swift and sweeping legislative reforms continue to elude the US.
“I think for the time being I’m on this side of the Atlantic,” said Murdock, who hopes to do advocacy work on issues like gun violence, healthcare or women’s rights after graduation.
She added, “It makes me frustrated that the United States has stood by and watched young people be murdered.”
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