September 17, 1996 is a painful date for many who were attending Penn State, including Peter Buckland. He said, “The community was , I would say, totally floored. I mean, I was.”
It was the day State College resident Jillian Robbins opened fire on the lawn of the HUB student union on the University Park campus, killing one student and wounding another.
Buckland, now an academic programs fellow at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute, was a student at Penn State and attended high school with the shooter. He said, “It is really unfortunate that someone as mentally unstable, as psychologically ill as Jillian was able to get a weapon.”
Buckland shared his story at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the shooting. He recounted his memories to a small group of students, not far from where the shooting occurred.
It was a part of a series called “Talking Together About Guns,” and was meant to jump-start conversations about the effects of gun violence.
Penn State professor Rosa Eberly organized the event for those who experienced the shooting to record their memories. But only a handful of people attended Eberly’s event. “It’s certainly not unique to this institution or this community, to not want to talk about difficult things. So you know, I’m not surprised,” she said.
Eberly said most people – especially current Penn State students – don’t know there was a shooting at Penn State. One of the students attending the event, James Quinton, was one of the students who only learned of the shooting when he took Eberly’s class.
He said, “Since we are in place called Happy Valley, I feel like a lot of people really like to think about that as a self-fulfilling prophecy, that there are like, no problems here. That people are just you know, happy here, that it’s a glimmering safe haven.”
Even with a low turn-out, Eberly got what she wanted – at the event Quinton and a few other students got into a discussion about gun violence. Like why don’t people want to talk about the root causes, why are there more shootings today than 20 years ago and are assault rifles to blame?
Eberly said, “We can talk about difficult things. In fact, we have to. It’s the best hope we have. So to me, gun violence is, at its heart, a communication problem.”
When the shooting happened 20 years ago, Buckland says people were shocked. He thinks the reaction would be different if the shooting happened today. “People would say, we should have seen it coming - what a horrible thing to even be able to say. But I think people are primed today to think ‘oh well, people might be shot on a college campus."
This was the only event that marked the 20th anniversary of the HUB lawn shooting.
The next event in the “Talking Together About Guns” series will be on November 1, also at the HUB-Robeson Center on Penn State’s University Park campus. It will be a screening of “Tower,” a new documentary revisiting the 1966 shooting at the University of Texas.