Rutgers Student Fights Gun Violence

Rutgers Student Fights Gun Violence

“It’s your constitutional right to bear arms, but it shouldn’t infringe on my right to live,” said Jai Patel

Since the moment Jai Patel and his friends sought cover in a clothing store bathroom when gunfire erupted in a Jersey City mall, all he has wanted to talk about is how to prevent something like that from ever happening again.

Jai Patel speaks out against gun violence at a rally after  a shooting at the Newport Centre Mall in Jersey City. Photo by The Jersey Journal.


Advocating to stop gun violence wasn’t new for Patel. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff members, he helped organize a local March for our Lives in Jersey City. The event in his hometown was one of hundreds that took place around the country in tandem with a march in Florida organized by the survivirors of the Parkland shooting.

Since coming to Rutgers – and after the terrifying experience of being in the middle of shooting at the Newport Centre Mall – Patel is taking his activism one step futher. He plans to launch a local chapter of Students Demand Action at Rutgers in fall of 2019 in time for his sophomore year. The group is affiliated with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a grassroots movement of volunteers fighting lax gun laws and loopholes.

“I want students to get involved before another mass shooting happens,” said Patel, a criminal justice major at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “I want them to talk to their local legislature, call in to fight for bill packages, contact their city officials if they don't see something they agree with, but I want them to get involved now.”

Patel decided to launch the group after the university was selected by Gov. Murphy this fall to house the New Jersey Center on Gun Violence Research, only the second of its kind in the nation. He said he wants the Rutgers chapter of Students to Demand Action to work with the center to boost its mission to advance data driven policies to address gun violence.

“Our group will sponsor local New Brunswick events and work in close conjunction with New Jersey’s Center on Gun Violence Research at Rutgers to educate students on the epidemic of gun violence. Knowledge is the best weapon to fight the NRA,” Patel said.

The group is an outgrowth of Patel’s activism that started after the Parkland when he and his sister helped organize the local March for Our Lives.

“My sister, who was only 12 years old at the time, wrote a letter to the mayor and he responded within 20 minutes,” Patel said. “I have never heard of any official responding that fast, so I knew we could actually pull this off.”

That was his first time working with the Moms Demand Action, which eventually persuaded him to get more involved.

Then this fall, after the shooting at the Jersey City Mall, he wrote an op-ed in the Star-Ledger which helped establish him as an outspoken advocate.

“It’s your constitutional right to bear arms, but it shouldn’t infringe on my right to live.” - Jai Patel

After learning the shooting was fueled by gang violence, he became interested in learning why people his age turned to gun violence and soon learned the complexity and deep roots of the issue. He’s explored different angles of the issue from why young people get invoveld in gangs, to domestic violence and NRA funding of politicians and question of access to firearms.

“Everyone is facing something different, but in the end we all want the same thing – for people to stop dying from gun violence.”

Patel wants to be clear that he is not advocating for banning guns but wants to keep guns away from the wrong people. He is even applying for a gun license himself.

As part of the group at Rutgers, Patel said he will be advocating for the Senate to pass universal background checks on all gun sales, passing the Violence Against Women Act that will protect women from gun violence in a domestic setting, and standing in solidarity with students across the country taking a stand against gun violence that is crippling the country. 

“It’s your constitutional right to bear arms, but it shouldn’t infringe on my right to live,” he said.  

Patel said he comes from a privileged background, which is why he wants to step up.

“I’ve met moms who lost their kids to drive-by shootings while they simply played on their front porch,” he said. “My sister and I got a chance to play without fear and that shouldn't be exclusive to children from priviledged backgrounds.’’

He believes everyone should have that experience.

“Every child should be able to live without fear, and if my privilege gives me the resources to fight on their behalf, then that’s what I’m willing to do.”


For media inquiries, contact Cynthia Medina at c.medina@rutgers.edu.