Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shooting Down College Violence

As a recent college graduate looking back on my four years of indentured servitude, I can recall many stressors that contributed to numerous sleepless nights and frequent migraines. I suppose its par for the course. After all, those hours of hard work cramming for exams and scrambling to complete a 15 page research paper you just started yesterday only make the reward of graduating that much sweeter. To say you survived college unscathed is quite the accomplishment.Yet in today's stormy climate of higher education, it isn't so much surviving anatomy and physiology that plagues the minds of American students. More and more, college students are facing the harsh reality that they are putting their personal safety at risk by simply stepping foot inside the student union. The April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech and The Northern Illinois University shootings that occurred earlier this year are slowly but surely bringing college violence closer to home.What's the Real Issue?Gun control has always been a hotbed of controversial discussion. With the majority of school massacres involving firearms, many blame the constitutional right of gun ownership for the increase in violent crime. Just this month, a librarian at Northeast Lakeview College in San Antonio was gunned down by a co-worker in the university's library. Authorities say the gunman shot and killed Devin Zimmerman, 37, and then sat and waited to be arrested. Students were in the library at the time of the shooting, but none were injured. Police eventually evacuated the building.The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence reports that every day, more than 80 Americans die as a result of gun shootings. Furthermore, the US Department of Justice reported that only 2% of all gun related crimes occurring between 2000-2002 were actually prosecuted. Law enforcement agencies are frequently ignoring laws including selling to minors and possessing a firearm in a school zone. Long story short, among the many concerns associated with gun ownership, guns are quickly and easily getting into the wrong hands and little is being done to prevent it.The Solution?Arguably, it could take years of painstaking effort to even make a dent in reversing the constitutional right to possess a firearm. Instead, the focus is being directed at the universities. In August, Illinois Gov. Rod D. Blagojevich signed The Campus Security Enhancement Act into law. This new act will require all universities in the state to develop and practice an emergency response plan alongside local emergency response agencies and mental health providers.During the investigation of the Virginia Tech shootings, the university authorities were criticized for slow and sloppy response to the shootings after failing to shut down the university after the first two shots. Authorities at the time believed it to be an isolated incident or that the shooter had fled the campus. Two and a half hours later, the massacre continued, ultimately leaving 33 dead.Effective Jan 1, 2009, all Illinois higher education institutions will be required to develop an emergency response plan as well as an inter-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional campus violence prevention plan in order to avoid a situation similar to Virginia Tech. State and local management officials will assist with the development of the operations as well as training. Another requirement involves the creation of a university threat assessment team and violence prevention committee. Blagojevich is also pushing for approval of the Campus Security Enhancement Grant Program. The $25 million dollar plan would provide funding for campus security response and violence prevention training programs, projects to enhance emergency communications, and implementation of campus-wide training programs."This new law sets Illinois apart in our efforts to make sure students and faculty members on college campuses are as safe as possible," said Blagojevich.With any hope, Governor Blagojevich's efforts will gain national attention and similar legislation will follow throughout the country. As tragically shown in the case of Virginia Tech, many lives may have been saved if a proper emergency procedure was in place. Universities need an efficient system to be prepared to handle a wide variety of emergency situations in order to ensure the security of its students. No one should have to fear for their life, especially when then they are taking every opportunity to make a better one for themselves by attending school.