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Background of Virginia Tech Shooting
Restitution for Victims
The United States has seen an increase in school shootings over the last century. The massacre at Virginia Tech University informed the country that emergency preparedness and response needed an urgent makeover across all colleges and universities. Shootings at lower levels of education such as elementary and high schools continue to rise however. The school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018 has helped to reinforce the country’s interest for tougher gun control laws through a nationwide movement called March for Our Lives. This paper discusses the actions that have been taken by legislatures to better protect students at all levels of education from active shooters.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018 was the location of one of the worsts shooting rampages in the United States. The incident resulted in the deaths of 17 people, 14 students and 3 faculty members. The attack was carried out by 19 year old, Nickolas Cruz, who was recently expelled for disciplinary reasons. The attack revamped the gun control debate within the country as well as pressuring government officials regarding better protection methods for schools (Grinberg & Levenson, 2018).
Mass school shootings are nothing new to the United States. The nation’s history has been etched with the attacks that have occurred at places of education. The case that seems to have started the trend was the shooting that occurred at the University of Texas on August 1, 1966. In this incident, architectural engineering student and Marine sniper, Charles Whitman, climbed to the observation deck of the 27-story clock tower in the center of campus heavily armed with rifles, pistols and a sawed-off shotgun. From there, he was able to pick off 13 people across campus and wounded more than 30 others before being gunned down by authorities (The Associated Press, 2016).
The Columbine massacre was another school shooting that shocked the American people. In this attack, two students, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, went on a killing spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The attack resulted in the deaths of 12 students and a teacher and wounded 20 more before the gunmen took their own lives. There was much speculation about what was the driving factor for this attack. Some theories suggested that they had been bullied and others said that they had targeted their victims on the premise of athletes, religion, and race. However, none of these theories were ever proven. The attack resulted in many schools across the country enacting “zero tolerance” rules on disruptive behavior and threats made against the school as a means to prevent such an event from reoccurring (“Columbine shooting”, 2018).
Mass shootings in an educational setting are starting become a frequent occurrence in the United States in the 21st century. Such a spike in the number of school shootings has caused a push by the community for public officials to take action. One of the largest pushes for reform in dealing with active shooters and gun control was after the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history that took place the campus of Virginia Tech University in 2007.
On April 16, 2007, the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history took place at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, VA. The attack occurred at two separate locations on campus by Virginia Tech senior, Seung-Hui Cho, over the course of almost three hours. The first attack took place at approximately 7:15am at West Ambler Johnston Hall, a coed dormitory (“Virginia tech fast facts”, 2016). Two people were shot and killed during this time. The university did not evacuate the campus or notify the students of the event until almost two and a half hours later. Campus police chief, Wendell Flinchum, explained to news media that evening that they did not act to secure the rest of campus after the first shooting because they thought the incident was “domestic” (Hauser & O’Connor, 2007). They thought it was between individuals that knew each other and that the incident was isolated to the dormitory. Chief Flinchum went on to say that the campus was not shut down after the first shooting because authorities thought that the gunman may have left campus. It is now known that after the first shooting, Cho left the scene and went to a post office where he mailed a package containing a video, photographs and writings to NBC News in New York City before returning to campus to conduct his second round of assaults. As university officials were meeting to discuss the first shootings at 9:45am, 911 calls began to flow in reporting a second shooting incident was taking place (“Virginia Tech fast facts”, 2016). The second attack occurred at Norris Hall, the engineering science and mechanics building. A total of 33 students and faculty, including Cho, were killed and 17 were wounded by the time police had arrived (Davies, 2008).
After the conclusion of the deadliest schooling shooting in U.S. history, investigation began to get underway on how such an event was able to take place to begin with. The investigation consisted of a panel to review events leading up to the day of the shootings, the shootings themselves, and their immediate aftermath (Davies, 2008).To further help with the investigation, President George W. Bush said that federal investigators would help the Virginia authorities in any way possible (Hauser & O’Connor, 2007).
One of the largest criticisms to the event was the delayed notifications to alert students of the shootings. The first shooting occurred at 7:15am and the school did not send out an email to students until 9:26am, just 14 minutes before the second shootings began at Norris Hall. Many students were still unaware of the apparent gunman that was lurking around campus. Students were still walking to and from class without any sense of alarm or fear. Even after reports of the second shootings began to come in, it still took an additional ten minutes to send out another email and text messages to students about the unfolding events (Glum, 2015).
Campus officials, along with state and federal legislation, began to take action to ensure more hastily notifications of events in the future. Many schools began to expand their communication strategies by implementing multiplatform alert systems that can notify students and faculty when something went wrong on campus. Virginia Tech now has the capability to send out emergency information by phone call, email, text message, website, Twitter, hotline, and loud speaker according to Michael J. Mulhare, director of emergency management (Glum, 2015).
Virginia Tech has also taken the extra effort to train faculty and students on what to do in a dangerous situation. Mulhare explained that the university focuses on teaching students how to access resources quickly and efficiently. The university has a centralized website with emergency plans as well as having them available in the downloadable app, LiveSafe (Glum, 2015). Having such resources readily available allows for phone lines to not be jammed up with people asking what course of actions they need to take and instead open for individuals with information pertaining to the situations to get through.
The Virginia Tech shootings also paved the way for several schools to form threat assessment offices that help identify potential cases that can be considered dangerous and intervene before an incident occurs. These threat assessment teams help schools become proactive instead of reactive to an event. Since 2007, approximately 80 % of colleges and universities have created threat assessment teams (Glum, 2015).
Other methods have been taken by legislation to reduce the accessibility of purchasing handguns. Upon investigation after the attacks, it was discovered that Cho was ordered by a judge to seek outpatient treatment after making suicidal remarks to his roommate back in December of 2005 (“Virginia Tech fast facts”, 2016). However, Cho’s medical records were never logged into a database that would have prevented him from buying a firearm. Actions to resolve this issue were taken the summer after the shootings by former Virginia governor, Tim Kaine, when he signed an executive order that mandated the names of people who received involuntary treatment for mental illness be turned over to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (Glum, 2015). If these names showed up, then they would not be permitted to legally purchase a firearm until declared stable by the courts. Former President George W. Bush also signed a law to strengthen the system and provided states with funds to keep the system updated (Glum, 2015).
Prevention efforts have been discussed, but it is just as important to mention what was done for the victims and their families in terms of compensation from the lack of efficiency in response from authorities. The first announcement came on August 15, 2007 when it was learned that the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund would donate $180,000 to the families of the 32 victims killed in the attacks. Those injured in the event would also receive between $40,000-$90,000 depending on the severities of the injuries as well as their tuition and fees being waved (“Virginia Tech fast facts”, 2016). These contributions by the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund were all made through private donations.
On March 24, 2008, the state proposed an $11 million settlement to families related to the shootings. In the settlement, $100,000 was offered to representatives of each of the 32 people killed and an additional $800,000 was set aside for those that were injured. Furthermore, those expenses not covered by insurance for medical, psychological, and psychiatric care for surviving victims and immediate family were also covered in the settlement proposal. This was very important when a study conducted by Hughes et. al. (2011) found evidence that many of the students with ties to the massacre were considered more likely to suffer with posttraumatic stress after the shootings. Governor Kaine announced that the majority of the families (24 out of 32) related to the shootings had agreed on the settlement, and it was approved by a judge July 17, 2008. By agreeing to this settlement, the families gave up their right to sue the university, state, and local government in the future (“Virginia Tech fast facts”, 2016)
Two of the families that did not take the deal sued the state of Virginia for wrongful death. The defendants argued that Virginia Tech failed to notify students early enough of the first shoots at West Ambler Johnston dorm and that if they would have acted earlier then lives could have been spared. The jury agreed with their argument and the judge awarded the families $4 million each. The case was later over turned by the Supreme Court of Virginia on the grounds that “there was no duty of the Commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts” (“Virginia Tech fast facts”, 2016; Crime Museum, 2017).
The restitutions and court cases were still not over for the university after these settlements were finished. The U.S. Department of Education released a report in December of 2010 with claims that Virginia Tech failed to notify students in a sensible time as directed by the Clery Act, a law that requires colleges and universities to provide timely notifications to faculty and students of campus security information. Nearly three and a half years after the charges were brought against them, Virginia Tech paid fines totaling $32, 500 in violation of the Clery Act to the Department of Education (“Virginia Tech fast facts”, 2016).
The incident of the Virginia Tech shootings by Seung Hui Cho informed the country that emergency preparedness and response needed an urgent makeover across all colleges and universities. In addition, it has been noted that many state and federal agencies needed to work together and initiate laws to help regulate gun control for mentally ill persons. It is just as vital for colleges and universities to be made aware of students with these sorts of medical disabilities so that they can receive proper attention and treatment needed. With all the measures taken after the attacks, college campuses are now acting more proactively towards dangers instead of reactive and help prevent such a disaster from happening in the future.
It seems that great measures have been taken across the country by colleges and universities in effort to prevent and respond more effectively to active shooter situations. However, we are still seeing such incidents take place on the lower levels of education as evident with the latest shooting in Parkland, Florida. Officials at all levels of government are working on what ways they believe will be best suited for protecting schools.
President Donald Trump made the remark that he believes we should allow some school personnel to be armed in the classrooms and pay them an incentive for doing so. President Trump assured that these staff members would attend rigorous training to ensure the safety of the students. This idea follows the example of Israel as there have been incidents where they do arm their teachers and hire security guards in efforts to protect their students in the more dangerous areas of the country (Cantor, 2012).
Some states have allowed school staff to carry firearms for years and many other states give the school districts the authority to decide whether they would have armed staff on campus. For instance, many schools throughout Texas decided to arm their staff after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took place in Connecticut in 2012. Texas public schools are operating under what is known as the Guardian Plan in which teachers are allowed to carry handguns or keep them locked in a safe. Schools participating in the plan receive a stipend from the plan that allows for the purchasing of ammunition and annual tactical training. This is one of three options in which Texas public schools can have armed staff. Other options include the formation of police forces as well as establishing school marshals. These school districts can also contract private security firms and law enforcement agencies to patrol the school (May, 2018).
Utah also allows firearms to be brought on campus. It is said that anyone with a concealed carry permit can bring a firearm on school grounds if approved by a school administrator. There is at least one shooting range in Southern Utah that even offers a shooting course that is focused on educators carrying guns inside a school (May, 2018).
Although many states and school districts have been already arming school staff for a while and the President feels that it is a good option in the future protecting of our schools, the proposal has received much backlash. The Violence Poverty Center (2018) released an article as to why we should not allow teachers and other school personnel to be armed. The first argument is that the weapon would be available to every student, staff, and visitor at the school. Moreover, anyone considering an attack at schools will know of the presence of armed personnel and act accordingly. The next argument is that teachers will have a likelihood of not using their firearms correctly. This can arrive in the forms of accidental discharge, shooting an unintended target, as well as misappropriate decisions on use of deadly force. Their last argument is that school districts, schools, and teachers will have a huge burden in trying to keep inventory of and ensuring that these firearms are not lost or stolen (Violence Policy Center, 2018).
Other critics believe that the response to protecting our schools should come from heightened gun control legislation. Student survivors from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting have been actively leading the March for Our Lives movement to enact tougher gun laws in the United States. Since the February 14th shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, student survivors have met with President Donald Trump, appeared on national news programs and online, as well as helped organize a national student walkout all in efforts to promote their message. The movement has quickly spread all across the nation with the simple message to politicians of all parties- either enact tougher gun laws or face the consequences of getting voted out of office. In just a few months, the March for Our Lives movement has quickly become the most powerful anti-gun effort in the last 20 years (Chou, 2018).
It appears as though the efforts of these advocates have started to impact legislatures around the country. In just a few short weeks after the Parkland shooting, Oregon became to the first state to pass a new gun law. This new law prohibits those that have been convicted of domestic abuse to own firearms. A similar bill had previously been passed that prohibited those convicted of domestic violence or stalking from owning a gun, but the latest bill closed the loophole that allowed abusers not living with, married to, or children with the victim to possess a firearm (Thomsen, 2018).
Florida has also taken the initiative to meet the demands of the public to enact tougher gun laws. Florida legislatures have passed a bill that has allowed from some teachers to be armed on campus and they have also raised the minimum age to purchase a rifle in the state from 18 to 21 (Thomsen, 2018). Such legislation is are very small but it is a start in trying to promote gun control and reducing threats to school environments.
The dangers of school shootings have become a part of the American culture. For the last century the presence of such events has started to become more and more prominent. The mass shooting that occurred at Virginia Tech University on April 16, 2007 showed the country just how vulnerable places of learning were to threats of extremism. Lessons learned from the event included advanced alert systems to notify students and faculty of a campus threat, promoting awareness on campuses on what to look for and ways to report troubled or suspicious persons, and heightened gun laws. The latest incident at Stoneman Douglas High School has brought the topic back to light as to how to better protect students across the United States. It will be interesting to see what actions will be taken at all levels of government to combat the growing threat of school shootings.
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Layton, L. (2014, April 16). Virginia tech pays fine for failure to warn campus during 2007 massacre. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/
May, A. (2018, March 14). Gun in school: It’s not just an idea. Here’s how some states are already doing it. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/
The Associated Press. (2016, August 1). Beginning of an era: The 1966 University of Texas Clock Tower Shooting. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/
Thomsen, J. (2018, March 6). Oregon becomes first state to add new gun law since Parkland shooting. The Hill. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/
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