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JSU Student Killed In Campus Shooting While Trying to Stop Fight, Prompting Calls For Gun Reforms

Jaylen Burns dressed in a tuxedo
Jaylen Burns, an industrial technology major and member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Jackson State University, was killed while trying to break up a fight at an on-campus apartment complex on Oct. 15, 2023, his father, Jason Burns, said. Photo courtesy Burns family

Mississippi gun violence prevention advocates are calling on lawmakers to act days after the shooting death of Jackson State University student Jaylen Burns, a Chicago native who majored in industrial technology. He was shot on Oct. 15 while trying to break up a fight at an on-campus apartment complex, said his father, Jason Burns.

Burns’ death at Jackson State comes weeks after a shooting on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md., left several people injured. Activists from Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action say the failure of politicians to reform gun laws makes students feel unsafe on campuses and in the classroom.

Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action organizers said in an Oct. 17, 2023, press release that lax gun laws in Mississippi contribute to students feeling unsafe on campuses and in classrooms. They are calling for gun law reforms after Jaylen Burns’ killing at JSU. Photo courtesy Moms Demand Action

“We’re being forced to normalize learning in constant fear of gunfire ringing out in—and outside of—our classrooms, but the truth is, this isn’t normal. When shootings happen we need more than ‘thoughts and prayers.’ We need action to keep us safe,” said Valencia Green of Students Demand Action in a press release on Oct. 17.

The Jackson Police Department and Capitol Police are looking for a person of interest in the shooting, but the alleged shooter has not been identified, WLBT reported.

Reeves: ‘The Second Amendment Is Here To Stay’

Mississippi does not require a person to obtain a permit before carrying concealed handguns in public, meaning someone can get a gun and carry it concealed in public without ever passing a criminal background check or taking firearm training, Everytown for Gun Safety’s website notes.

Earlier this year, the same week that students and teachers at Warren Central High School were leaving class to protest gun violence, Gov. Tate Reeves signed House Bill 1110 into law, blocking the creation of gun registries and efforts to track financial transactions related to the purchase of firearms.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed House Bill 1110 into law in April 2023, prohibiting the creation of gun registries and efforts to track financial transactions related to the purchase of firearms. Photo courtesy Tate Reeves / Twitter

Reeves cited privacy and safety concerns regarding gun purchaser and owner information as his reason for signing the bill into law.

“The Second Amendment rights of Mississippians shall not be infringed. My administration will continue to push back on national Democrats’ unconstitutional gun grabs that threaten the safety and privacy of law-abiding gun owners. Unlike California and New York, we’re proud to welcome the firearms industry and gun owners from across the country to enjoy the protections that our state has to offer. Let me be clear: as long as I’m governor, the Second Amendment is here to stay in Mississippi,” WJTV reported Reeves saying in April 2023.

Shirley Meeks, a volunteer with the Mississippi chapter of Moms Demand Action, denounced such actions in the organization’s press release following Burns’ death.

“When Mississippi lawmakers continually push a deadly agenda that allows ‘guns everywhere, for anyone, no questions asked’—alongside hateful rhetoric and racist policies—gun violence that disproportionately affects the Black community is an inevitable and devastating conclusion,” she said on Tuesday.

A June 2022 report from the Center for American Progress warned that “the lack of investment in communities of color, coupled with weak gun laws, has resulted in devastatingly high rates of gun violence for Black and brown people.”

“To reduce gun violence in these communities, U.S. policymakers must complement common sense gun laws with investments in community-based violence intervention (CVI) initiatives and policies to address root causes of gun violence,” the report continued.

Activists with Moms Demand Action say Mississippi lawmakers push for “guns everywhere, for anyone, no questions asked” and they believe that coupled with disinvestment in Black communities contributes to gun violence disproportionately affecting Black people. Photo courtesy Moms Demand Action

Tracy Sexton, an organizer with the Mississippi chapter of Moms Demand Action, told the Mississippi Free Press that she’s “fed up with all these shootings. It doesn’t just affect the friends and family (of the person killed), it affects the whole community around them. Something has to be done.”

Gun violence prevention on college campuses has been a topic of discussion nationally for decades, particularly after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado where two students killed twelve of their peers and a teacher before taking their own lives. In the years following the mass shooting at Columbine High School, gun violence on campus has affected both HBCUs like Jackson State University and other schools like the University of North Carolina, where a graduate student killed a professor on Aug. 28.

Everytown for Gun Safety reports that there have been over 100 gun violence incidents reported on school campuses around the country this year alone; among those, 76 people have been shot and wounded and 31 others were shot and killed.

The killing of Jaylen Burns tragically adds to that trend. His death marks the second shooting death of a student on the campus of Jackson State in the past year. Last December, JSU student Flynn Brown was found dead in a vehicle on campus after being shot in the head by another student.

‘Tell Me How I’m Supposed to Live Without My Son’

Jaylen Burns’ family was with him in Jackson over the weekend to celebrate Jackson State University’s homecoming. His mother, La’Trice Wright, said she was in the airport on her way back to Chicago when she got a phone call that her son had been shot.

“Before I could even get back (to Chicago), they told me my child was gone. I need somebody to tell me what I’m supposed to do next. I need somebody to tell me how I’m supposed to live without my son,” she told Chicago’s WGN-TV.

A woman sits on the ground and writes "enough" in charlk on the sidewalk
Anna Buckley writes “#enoughisenough” on the sidewalk near a gun violence prevention rally outside the Mississippi State Capitol building in June 2022. Photo by Lukas Flippo

Jackson State University canceled all classes on Monday, Oct. 16—the day after Burns’ death.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Jaylen’s family, friends and all those who knew him. He was an ambitious and bright young man, who believed in being of service as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and president of the C100 Chapter at JSU, an affiliate of the 100 Black Men of America. We grieve the tragic loss of his life due to this senseless act of violence,” JSU Acting President Dr. Elayne H. Anthony said in a statement.

Tracy Sexton said she’s hopeful that continuing to put pressure on Mississippi lawmakers to enact stricter gun laws will help prevent future tragedies like Burns’ killing.

“I’m not going to stop fighting for the communities in my state. I’m praying one day that with the consistency of pushing these lawmakers, gun violence decreases,” she said.

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