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Virginia Tech survivor: Keep guns off campus

By Colin Goddard, Special to CNN
  • Colin Goddard says Texas lawmakers propose letting students carry guns on campus
  • He was shot at Virginia Tech; says more important to keep guns from dangerous people
  • He says letting students carry guns would confuse police response in real emergency
  • Goddard: Schools must better assess threats; and gun background checks improved

Editor's note: Colin Goddard is a graduate of Virginia Tech University and is an assistant director of legislative affairs at the Brady Campaign. He is the subject of a documentary, "Living for 32," that has been accepted for competition in the Short Films category at the Sundance Film Festival.

(CNN) -- After hearing that legislators in Texas and perhaps other states will again try to change the law to force colleges to allow students to bring loaded concealed weapons into classrooms, I would like to share my point of view as someone who has experienced gun violence in a class firsthand.

I survived the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. Student Seung-Hui Cho shot me in my hips, shoulder and knee. I've recovered from my injuries and I have come away with new perspectives on life and our country.

Permitting guns on campuses is simply a reaction to dangerous situations that come together due to failures in multiple areas of our society. It won't make it less likely that horrible tragedies will occur again.

School, mental health and firearm policies to protect students and every American can and should be more thorough in the future. Rather than looking to react to this problem at the last possible second with another gun, let's look at ways to stop another situation from escalating into a shooting to begin with.

Last month, investigators with the U.S. Department of Education found that the Virginia Tech administration failed to notify the student body for two hours that there had been a double homicide and that a gunman was on the loose.

I've known they didn't respond fast enough since that morning. I learned about the early morning dormitory shooting on campus from a student who arrived in our French class late because her dorm had been on lockdown. If I'd been aware of that incident and the hunt for the killer, I wouldn't have gone to class that morning. I'm sure others would have felt the same and the girl who arrived in class late would still be alive. In other words, effective preventive action could have changed the outcome.

2007: Virginia Tech shooting
2007: Surviving four shots
2007: On scene of Virginia Tech shooting

The mental health response also failed at Virginia Tech, as it has in other multiple shootings elsewhere. In almost every case, there have been friends, teachers and others who knew the shooter was troubled and likely dangerous. In many cases, including the Virginia Tech shooting, the shooter had sought help, then fell through the cracks due to weaknesses in the system. No one in a position of authority to act listened to and properly reported the warnings.

Schools at all levels must create effective multidisciplinary threat-assessment teams, allowing a more fluid flow of information between student-teacher-doctor-parent, and following up until students no longer pose a threat.

We could also do more to keep guns from dangerous people in the first place. The most recent available data shows that on average, states supply less than 44 percent of appropriate mental health records to the The National Instant Criminal Background (NICS) Check System, the FBI check mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.

And while some states have supplied a larger number of records of the dangerously mentally ill since the Virginia Tech shooting, other states have submitted no such records to the system. Seung-Hui Cho was the subject of a court order finding him a danger to himself or others because of mental illness. That court order was not submitted, allowing him to pass two background checks, purchase two guns and kill 32 people and himself.

Also--startlingly--felons, the dangerously mentally ill and just about anybody can buy firearms without the background check or any paperwork at all. I'm not talking about on the streets or from the "black market," but in public from "private sellers" at advertised events, such as gun shows and in newspaper and catalog ads. In the transactions in which NICS background checks have been done under the Brady law, 1.9 million purchases of guns have been stopped since 1994.

But how many dangerous people bought guns through public sales where they knew there would be no background check? We can't know because there aren't records of those transactions to begin with. However, one instance everyone should remember is the Columbine High School massacre. Three of the guns used were purchased through private sales without background checks at a public gun show.

Forcing colleges to allow students to carry concealed weapons isn't a solution and it could easily make matters worse. It effectively rewrites the book on how police respond to a situation with an active shooter. The one student with the gun would no longer be the only target -- that person could be one among several or more. This is why nearly every campus law enforcement organization also opposes this measure.

Proponents of allowing guns on campus have not explained how such a law would be enforced. Neither can they account for the additional complications created by allowing guns onto college campuses in everyday situations other than the rare active shooter. Think: The University of Texas at Austin has a preschool, an elementary school, a hospital and a bar on campus.

Rather than pushing to bring more guns onto college campuses and trying to react to violence while it's under way, my point is we should work harder to stop the guns that make it there and to prevent those shootings in the first place. Once someone is on campus with guns and intends to kill, we've already lost. Let's take steps before the last possible second to make our schools and every American safer.

The head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, said it well after the Columbine tragedy in 1999: "We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools. That means no guns in America's schools, period ... with the rare exception of law enforcement officers or trained security personnel. We believe America's schools should be as safe as America's airports. You can't talk about, much less take, bombs and guns onto airplanes. Such behavior in our schools should be prosecuted just as certainly as such behavior in our airports is prosecuted."

Listen to him.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Colin Goddard.