Google Analytics

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Campus Tragedy

The shooting at Northern Illinois University hits close to home. NIU is located in DeKalb, about 60 miles west of Chicago and it draws many students from the Chicago area. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

Since the Virgina Tech tragedy last spring, universities have beefed up security both in numbers and how they operate. The University of Chicago, Northwestern and my daughter's school district all recently implemented instant alert systems that emails and texts me, and call my home, mobile and office (which forwards to my mobile). But none of these preparations can stop a single incident like at Northern Illinois or the shooting death of University of Chicago graduate student Amadou Cisse last November during a robbery attempt, or an outright terrorist attack.

Nothing short of a fenced in perimeter with airport-style security can really keep a campus safe. So must we have an unsafe academic environment? If fact we don't. The number of campus shootings is quite low, considerably less than deaths due to suicide or alcohol abuse. Campus shootings just get more press because they are rare and often have multiple victims. These press reports never seem to mention that the vast majority of college student somehow manage to graduate without permanent injuries of any kind.

9 comments:

  1. Nothing short of a fenced in perimeter with airport-style security can really keep a campus safe.

    This implies that a fenced-in perimeter with airport-style security could keep a campus safe. It would not -- most (all?) of these shootings are by people who belong on campus, not outsiders. So it would actually do little if anything for security, while making life miserable for everyone. (Do we really want "airport-style" anything, anywhere?)

    ReplyDelete
  2. In these cases people try to obsess about the shooters' motives and explanations which keeps such incidents in the media. This has the power of suggestion for a large at-risk population.

    Recall when this kind of thing was known as "going postal"? After Columbine, high schools and universities somehow have taken the place of the post office in public consciousness about mass shootings.
    The more attention, the more risk. Michael Moore somehow forgot that prior to Columbine there was the Concordia shooting in peaceful Canada, but maybe that lack of media memory would be a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. While I agree with anon #2 that the actual risk is blown out of proportion (as always), I don't think the comparison to "going postal" is apt. The term "going postal" was coined after 7 USPS shootings over 10 years, while there have been 25 school related shootings in the past 10 years (and 8 in the past year alone). [All stats come from wikipedia.] Also, I would argue that the school related shootings are different because, for the most part, strangers are being killed rather than co-workers, making it scarier and also harder to understand.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "These press reports never seem to mention that the vast majority of college student somehow manage to graduate without permanent injuries of any kind."

    This reminds me of a comment by Rumsfeld. When asked about the violence and daily explosions in Iraq, he defensively said something to the effect that most of Iraq is not being blown up. Probably factually true, but not helpful.

    Or it reminds me of news shows that complain that we only hear bad things about Iraq and never the good things. Are we supposed to feel comforted that the "vast majority" of people are not killed on college campuses? Should that be a benefit of living in the US? Why can't we just have gun control? All civilized European countries do not have regular mass killings on college campuses. Why can't we expect that too?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Or it reminds me of news shows that complain that we only hear bad things about Iraq and never the good things.

    It could have been explained better, but the reality as described in Uniform Crime Reports is clear. If you don't want to get shot, you are much safer on a college campus than almost anywhere else in the United States. It's not the same as Iraq, where the bad news that is widely reported is just the tip of the iceberg of the full bad news.

    I agree that these campus shootings are related to lax gun control. There would still be some campus shootings if the laws were better (there was one at Concordia), but not as many. Unfortunately the NRA and libertarian types extend your argument to say that actually we have too much gun control. They say that the campuses are all gun-free zones, and that without that, armed good guys could gun down the lunatics.

    The reality is that not only are campuses much safer than the rest of the country, most of the shootings that they do suffer are one-on-one rage incidents, just like elsewhere.

    ReplyDelete
  6. As a libertarian it's not guns that are a problem as much as consealed handguns. Concealing a weapon in a public place is an act of underhanded aggression.

    I have no problem with someone publicly carrying an unloaded rifle or shotgun in plain sight. Heck, the ROTC does it routinely, and sometimes with bayonets fixed.

    ReplyDelete
  7. > Nothing short of a fenced in perimeter with airport-style security can really keep a campus safe.

    Israeli universities do have fenced perimeters and airport-style security. There have not been mass shootings, but there was a devastating bomb attack at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the summer of 2002.

    Fences are, at best, partial solutions. And, as pointed out above, they come at a significant cost.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Gun control would not have stopped the shooting at NIU. The shooter passed all background checks and there was nothing, from a gun control perspective, that would have stopped this individual. It's a mental illness issue. He should have been monitored better by friends, family and mental health professionals. They knew he had stopped taking meds and was showing irratic behavior. While that doesn't imply he's going to necessarily hurt someone, but his loved ones, could have taken his weapons away, and possibly kept a closer eye on him. Whether or not that would have helped, I don't know. But we have to stop using these issues to air our issues about guns and look at the whole picture.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Gun control would not have stopped the shooting at NIU. The shooter passed all background checks and there was nothing, from a gun control perspective, that would have stopped this individual."

    Of course it would have. Gun control is not just better background checks--it is the banning of guns!! Since medical records that would disclose mental illness are confidential, the whole idea of "passing a background" check is crazy. There was an incident in the past two years, for example, in Berlin in which a German teenager was drunk and stabbed 28 people, but no one was killed. If that guy had had easy access to a gun, it could have been a different story. There will always be mental illness and violence, but if guns are easily available, then we really should not be surprised when things like this happen. The question is, who has the mental problems: the people who "pass background checks" and use the guns randomly, or the people who constantly defend everyone's right to legally purchase such weapons?

    ReplyDelete