One Perspective: Treat the disease, not the symptoms

By Ted Streuli
The Daily Record Newswire

In September 2009, John Woods was a graduate student at the University of Texas.

Texans were considering a law that would allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons to exercise that right at public institutions of higher learning. The bill would have taken the decision-making authority away from the regents, who run the schools and have opted to have a no-guns policy on their campuses.

The idea lost support, perhaps, because on Sept. 28, 2009, 19-year-old University of Texas sophomore Colton Tooley opened fire in the school’s library with an AK-47,              firing four times and killing himself. That incident tore at a scabbed-over wound in Austin, where folks still talk about the day in 1966 when Charles Whitman pointed a rifle from the iconic campus clock tower and went on a 96-minute shooting spree, killing 16 and wounding 31.

That must have been a harrowing day for John Woods. Woods not only had the misfortune of being on the UT campus when Tooley started shooting, he also had the bad luck to have been a Virginia Tech student in April, 2007. That’s when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people using two semiautomatic pistols. One of the victims was Woods’ girlfriend. Cho had been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder years earlier.

One year earlier, Todd Gilbert introduced a campus-carry bill that would have forced public universities to allow those with permits to carry concealed weapons on campus. The bill failed. A Virginia Tech review panel recommended that the legislature leave decisions about guns on campuses to individual schools, but Gilbert tried again in 2008. The bill was defeated a second time.

In 1991, Gang Lu was upset because he was passed over for an academic honor at the University of Iowa. When he was finished shooting, five school employees were dead, two were wounded and he had committed suicide.

In 2002, 40-year-old Gulf War veteran Robert Flores was failing nursing school at the University of Arizona. Armed with five guns, he killed three of his instructors before fatally shooting himself.

In 2002, the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia dismissed 42-year-old student Peter Odighizuwa, who returned to kill three and wound three others.

In 2000, John Easton Kelly murdered his English professor, then committed suicide after being dropped from a doctoral program at the University of Arkansas.

Amy Bishop is accused of killing three and wounding three others at the University of Alabama’s Huntsville campus last year over a tenure dispute. Shortly after the incident it came to light that Bishop had fatally shot her brother in 1986, which was ruled accidental.

Oklahoma State Sen. Steve Russell, a Republican who has been an outspoken advocate for less regulation of firearms, has introduced a bill to require Oklahoma’s public colleges to allow those with permits to carry concealed weapons on campus. He has also introduced a bill to allow the open carrying of firearms.

Only Utah has such a law, although the question is before the court in Colorado. The rest of the country leaves it up to the schools or specifically bans guns on campuses. Those who support Russell’s bill argue that campuses would be safer if students could defend themselves. Guns were prohibited in each of the incidents above.

On average, 268 people are shot each day in the United States. Our firearm homicide rate is five times higher than Canada’s, 13 times higher than Germany’s, 24 times higher than Spain’s and 44 times higher than England and Wales, all of which have more restrictive gun laws than the U.S.

The common denominator is not that the killer had a gun while students didn’t. Rather, it is that the shooters were emotionally, mentally disturbed people. Oklahoma has one facility, the Oklahoma Forensic Center, for those mentally incompetent to stand trial and those found not guilty by reason of insanity. It has 200 beds. The state also has one facility for inpatient psychiatric treatment, both voluntary and involuntary, the 182-bed Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman.

If Sen. Russell truly wants to make Oklahoma campuses safer, he should vote to fund more inpatient mental health services and provide the care those unfortunate souls need before they start shooting.

All Oklahoma university presidents opposed the campus-carry law last year, but if anyone would be a candidate to argue Russell’s point, it would be Woods, the man who survived campus shootings at both Virginia Tech and the University of Texas. After the Virginia shooting he bought a gun and carried it briefly.

Here’s what Woods told the Associated Press in 2009: “The idea that somebody could stop a school shooting with a gun is impossible. It’s reactive, not preventative. You either play dead or you are dead.”