On The Exhale: Guns on Campus

Posted on: February 28th, 2017 by Roundabout

“Based on current trends, the problem is likely to become much graver over the next decade. It is imperative that lawmakers, policymakers, college administrators, law enforcement and others begin to have a serious dialogue and enact meaningful reforms to address this epidemic and make America’s colleges safe again.” — Citizens Crime Commission of New York City

Spotlight on Virginia Tech
On April 16, 2007, one of America’s deadliest mass shooting incidents occurred on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia. Student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks, before killing himself. Cho was found to have a troubled history of mental health that had not been adequately addressed or disclosed by the University.

The official review panel survey, known as the Massengill Report, included in-depth inquiry of the shooter’s mental health and mistakes made by both the college and the state that allowed this event to happen. It described “major gaps” in the mental health system that “prevent individuals from getting the psychiatric help when they are getting ill, during the need for acute stabilization, and when they need therapy and medication management during recovery.” The Massengill Report offered recommendations to universities about their responsibility to identify and address mental illness and protect the wider student body from troubled individuals.

One year after the shooting, a study of U.S. campuses found that 64% of schools were paying “greater attention and respect” to the needs of security and safety. Mental health of the campus community became a higher priority for college administrators. Research by psychologists demonstrated that campus shootings result in post-traumatic stress disorder for school personnel, including teachers and administrators, in addition to students, and recommended that everyone impacted by such events receive counseling or treatment.

The Virginia Tech shootings ignited a national debate about the right to carry weapons on college and other school campuses. Gun control proponents pointed at the ease with which a mentally unsound individual was able to purchase two semi-automatic pistols, despite state laws that should have prevented such purchase.

The Massengill Report recommended state legislation to allow college campuses to regulate the possession of firearms and went on to recommend campus gun bans, "unless mandated by law." The report also recommended wider gun control measures such as stronger background check requirements for all private firearms sales, including those at gun shows. In 2008, Governor Tim Kaine attempted to enact a law requiring background checks. Less than a year after the tragedy, despite passionate support from survivors of the event, the bill was defeated by a bipartisan committee of Virginia’s State Senate. However, Kaine did work with the legislature to close a loophole that had allowed the shooter to buy a gun even though a judge had declared him mentally ill two years earlier.

Opponents of gun control asserted that the school’s gun-free "safe zone" policy prevented students and faculty from being armed and able to defend themselves or stop the killer. In addition to increased advocacy for guns on campuses by the National Rifle Association, the event spurred student gun advocates to organize. A nationwide group, Students for Concealed Carry, started on Facebook and has grown to over 36,000 members today. The student-run group advocates for legal concealed carry on college campuses, as a means of self-defense in incidents like Virginia Tech. Today, SCC works to “push state legislators and school administrators to grant concealed handgun license holders the same rights on college campuses that those licensees currently enjoy in most other unsecured locations.”

In 2008, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, Inc. (IACLEA) issued a statement declaring their belief that allowing concealed guns would not make campuses safer, but rather would have the potential to dramatically increase violence on college and university campuses.

Virginia Tech shooting candlelight vigil.

The Big Picture: An Increase in Campus Shootings.
A recent study of campus shootings nationwide looked at 190 incidents at 142 colleges between 2001 and 2016, which demonstrated an increasing percentage of campus shootings over time.

Sept 2001 - June 2006: 40 recorded shootings on or near college campuses.
Sept 2006 - June 2011: 49 incidents (including Virginia Tech)
Sept 2011 - June 2015: 101 incidents (153% increase)

The victims:
290 students
5 former students
40 college employees
77 not associated with the college
25 with undetermined relationship to school

167 people were killed
270 people were wounded

Who were the shooters?
59% not associated with the school
28% students
9% former students
4% employees

12 states experienced more than 5 shooting incidents on or near college campuses. States with the most incidents were Tennessee (14), California (14), Virginia (13), Georgia (13), North Carolina (11) and Florida (11). The increase in incidents was most profound for colleges in states with increased access to guns.

The study conducted by the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, recommends:

Real reforms must be enacted in order to make America’s students safer.
The Clery Act (requiring colleges that receive federal funding to report criminal offenses) should be amended to require reporting of all shooting incidents occurring on college campuses and incidents involving students near college campuses.
State legislators should enact common-sense gun laws that make it harder for guns to get into the hands of so many people on or near college campuses (including one-gun-a-month law, training and license requirements, universal background checks, and strict carrying guidelines).
Closer collaboration between colleges and local law enforcement is needed.
Increased education for students and parents on the issues.
U.S. News & World Report and other college-raters should include gun violence statistics in their college rankings to better inform the public.

GUNS ON CAMPUS: State-by-state
Among the many controversies about guns in U.S. society, the right to carry concealed weapons on school campuses emerged as a point of debate after 2007. While the majority of U.S. public colleges still prohibit guns, the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have passed laws allowing the carrying of firearms on campus premises, including classrooms, dormitories, or parking lots.

Across these states, colleges have differing authority to determine gun policies. For example, Texas still allows each school to determine sensitive areas and buildings where concealed weapons will continue to be prohibited. But the Attorney General of Kansas recently denied a request by the University of Kansas to ban guns on certain parts of campus, such as high security areas containing dangerous materials.

Learn more about campus guns on a state-by-state basis here:

Moms Demand Action
In 2015, in response to the devastating school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Moms Demand Action was founded by Shannon Watts. The grassroots organization quickly grew, with chapters in all 50 states. The group supports the 2nd Amendment but advocates for common-sense solutions to decrease gun violence. Through its efforts, the group helped keep guns out of schools in Virginia, North Dakota, Kentucky, Florida, and Alaska. The organization also reaches out to educators, to work on opposition to gun proliferation in schools.

Learn more about Moms Demand Action here:

On the Exhale is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.

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2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground, Upstage

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