When Emma Welsh-Huggins ’17 woke up on the morning of June 12, 2016, she noticed news alerts crowding her phone screen about a mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub. The massacre at the gay nightclub, Pulse, left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and 53 wounded.
“I remember waking up to seeing that that had happened and feeling just so sick to my stomach,” said Welsh-Huggins, a sociology major from Columbus, Ohio.
Frustrated by the lack of congressional response, Welsh-Huggins decided to learn more about getting involved in local grassroots work to prevent gun violence. Per the suggestion of her friend Alex Piper ’16, who had worked for gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, Welsh-Huggins reached out to a chapter of Moms Demand Action in Atlanta, where she was working during the summer. With support from leaders of the chapter, her work “snowballed from there.”
This year, Welsh-Huggins has devoted her time to revitalizing Kenyon Students for Gun Sense, a gun sense and gun control advocacy group previously known on campus as Kenyon Students Against Gun Violence. With the new name, Welsh-Huggins hoped to change the way the group approached its efforts, emphasizing that the group pushes for smarter gun sense legislation, not a blanket ban on guns.
“If you are a smart, safe and responsible gun owner, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have every Second Amendment right to own a gun,” she said.
The reenergized group charged into its mission this year to facilitate more conversations around campus about gun violence. The group held film screenings, brought speakers to campus, and traveled to Columbus to lobby against proposed state legislation that would allow the concealed carry of firearms onto college campuses.
The legislation that Welsh-Huggins and her classmates lobbied against ultimately passed in a lame-duck session of the state legislature, going into effect in March. (In response to the bill, Kenyon updated its weapons policy to clarify the College’s longstanding ban of weapons on campus.) Welsh-Huggins worries about what the bill could mean for campuses across Ohio.
“I’m really proud that President Decatur has articulated that Kenyon will remain a firearm-free zone,” Welsh-Huggins said. “Our concern is that Kenyon and Kenyon students do not exist in a vacuum. … Our hope for Kenyon is that we will obviously remain a firearm-free zone, but also that we will become a more vocal advocate for campuses to be gun-free zones.”
Next year, the gun sense group, under the direction of incoming president Jessie Gorovitz ’20 of Berkeley, California, will focus on encouraging comprehensive active shooter training for all students, faculty and staff as well as expanding outreach into the Knox County community. Welsh-Huggins says the group also hopes to build a national network of similar student organizations across the country.