Preventing School Shootings

Ninety-two percent of students surveyed believe completely preventing shootings is impossible. EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series examining students’ feelings on campus safety. Part three will run tomorrow.

On April 16, 2007, a student at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 students and staff before killing himself to end the biggest school shooting rampage in U.S. history.

On Feb. 14, 2008, a former Northern Illinois University student entered a classroom at that university, killing five people and wounding many more before taking his own life.

In both instances, the gunman was a threat to other students on campus. In one case, the student was suicidal and had met with the school’s counselors to discuss those issues; in the other case, the gunman was a seemingly model citizen.

The Minnesota Daily’s Safety and Security Survey found many University students are worried about a similar incident happening here, but most feel a shooting is unpreventable, regardless of the individual pulling the trigger.

Forty-nine percent of survey respondents said they were concerned a school shooting could happen at the University, but 92 percent said completely preventing a school shooting is impossible.

Psychology and communications senior Katie Katoski said she thinks there wouldn’t be any fewer school shootings, even if the school knew a student was having a problem. But she questioned why a student with that level of problems would still be in school.

“If someone’s at that point, they shouldn’t be in school,” she said of students considering bringing a gun to campus.

But how is the University to determine which students are risks to others? Should the burden to inform the school of a potential problem fall on the shoulders of professors or teaching assistants or the student’s parents?

Students were split exactly in half when asked if parents should be required to inform the school of a problem, but were more disparate when it came to school staff.

Seventy-one percent of students said professors and teaching assistants should be required to inform the school of a student’s emotional or behavioral problems. Only 29 percent thought they shouldn’t be.

Katoski said she agrees with the minority on that issue.

“I think that a lot of times a teacher doesn’t know a student well enough to know what’s going on,” she said. “It would be frustrating for a student to have someone butting into their personal life.”

Parents should determine on a case-by-case basis whether to tell the school of their child’s problems, she said.

“If there’s something that’s a safety concern for others, then I think it’s just a moral thing to inform others of their risk,” she said. “But how would the school monitor it?”

Faculty can request assistance in dealing with troubled students, but said there is no formal policy requiring faculty to report a student to the school, University spokesman Dan Wolter said.

Faculty are required to maintain a safe classroom environment, however, and if that means reporting a student’s potentially threatening actions or behaviors then they must take that action, he said.