The mass shooting that occurred at Virginia Tech four years ago was already on my mind when I learned about Thursday’s murder-suicide at the campus. I was in Washington, D.C., to testify at an appeal hearing concerning the April 16, 2007 tragedy. Virginia Tech is appealing fines levied by the Department of Education, which found that the school failed to adequately warn students, faculty and staff of the initial murders committed by gunman Seung Hui-Cho that horrible morning in Ambler Johnston Hall.
Ironically, I first learned about the murder of Officer Derek Crouse when I checked my cell phone messages after the hearing. I had a voicemail from Virginia Tech administration, indicating that a gunman was loose on campus. Students were being clearly instructed to “shelter in place.”
Even though my daughter Emily—who survived the 2007 massacre after being shot twice—graduated two years ago, I decided to remain in Virginia Tech’s warning system. No one ever wants to see something like this happen, but if it did happen again, I was hoping the university would learn from 2007. To their credit, they did. Their warning was issued almost immediately after Officer Crouse was shot by the gunman, and it’s possible that it saved lives.
The terrible constant, of course, is America’s criminally weak gun laws. Seung Hui-Cho was severely mentally ill, a stalker of women and suicidal when he legally purchased the guns used to kill 32 people and injure my daughter and others at Virginia Tech in 2007.
Four years later, almost nothing has been done to improve our nation’s background check system for gun purchasers. And more than 40 states, including Virginia, still allow private sales of guns without any background checks on purchasers. Sadly, it’s not surprising when good Americans like Derek Rouse are killed by homicidal maniacs with high-powered firearms. It’s inevitable. That’s how easy our elected officials have made it for dangerous people to arm themselves; and all to curry favor with the extremist leadership of the NRA.
Meanwhile, on the same day that we lost Officer Rouse, a radical pro-gun group, the Virginian Citizens Defense League, or VCDL, was rallying on the James Madison University campus to force the school to allow guns in its classrooms and dormitories. When they’re not busy trying to arm our campuses, VCDL advocates for the eradication of Virginia’s state background check system.
Keep in mind that neither the Virginia Tech administration—nor a single victim or surviving family member of the 2007 massacre—supports these attacks on our gun laws. To the contrary, many of us are calling for tougher, universal background checks on all gun sales to halt the carnage before it ever begins.
Recently, my friend Colin Goddard—who like my daughter was shot on April 16, 2007, but survived—said something that stuck with me. Responding to those whose only solution to violence on campus is to arm themselves with concealed handguns, he said, “Shame on those unwilling to be their brothers’ keeper, but being all too eager to be his executioners.”
I couldn’t agree more. In the wake of this latest incident, we all need to think carefully about how to prevent future gun violence, not create more of it.
Lori Haas is the mother of one of the students wounded in the deadly massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007.