Responding to odd behavior is best way to prevent killings
A senior at Virginia Tech has killed 32 fellow classmates and faculty members, the worst shooting rampage in U.S. history.
NEARLY eight years after the Columbine massacre at a suburban Denver high school, the worst shooting in American history
has stunned the country. The deaths of 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus at the hand of a gunman who then took his own life might bring calls for greater security or more extensive gun control, but such incidents cannot be so easily prevented.
In schools and in workplaces, failed grades and employment difficulties, combined with mental illness, have culminated in gunfire. Two alienated Columbine students fascinated with Nazism shot 13 students before turning their guns on themselves in April 1999. Less than seven months later, a mentally disturbed Byran K. Uyesugi shot and killed seven fellow employees at a Xerox office building in Honolulu.
At the Blacksburg, Va., campus, senior English major Cho Seung-Hui, 23, first shot and killed a man and a woman in a dormitory about 7:15 a.m. Monday. Police say they believed the shooting had grown out of a domestic dispute and had no idea of the rampage would follow.
More than two hours later, Cho, a South Korean resident alien who has been described as a troubled loner, entered an engineering building, chaining at least two outside doors shut, then began shooting students and others in classrooms. Some of the students climbed out through windows while others lay down pretending to be dead.
Thirty-one people, including Cho, were killed in the building, bringing the day's toll to 33. At least 24 were wounded by gunfire or injured jumping from the engineering building.
Some Virginia Tech students were angry that police and university officials had not used the public address system or other means to alert them after the first shots were fired. However, officials had no expectation that the second shooting spree was about to unfold and thought the gunman had left the campus.
Cho had showed signs of mental disturbance. He once had been referred to counseling because of some of his writings in an English class, and a note in his dorm room railed against "rich kids," "debauchery" and "deceitful charlatans." He had set fire to his dorm room and, according to one account, had stalked some women.
Ideally, those signs should have garnered more attention, but calls for more security at college campuses, while understandable, would offer little protection against such an attack, and should be rejected. Academic institutions are among the nation's most open societies and should not be turned into citadels.
Cho used a 9 mm pistol -- the same kind of weapon used by Uyesugi -- and 22-caliber handgun. Neither of those is an assault-style weapon, but a law that Congress allowed to expire three years ago regulated not only assault-style weapons but ammunition clips, of which a witness said Cho carried "an ungodly amount."