Ryan O'Neal, a junior at Arizona State University, is a columnist for Scoop08.com, a national student newspaper dedicated to coverage of the 2008 presidential race. CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based.
Ryan O'Neal: "I couldn't help but be suspicious of everything and everyone."
TEMPE, Arizona (CNN) -- College students are faced with many challenges each day. It's tough to balance a job with hours of homework, and to pay attention in class while planning an escape route from a lecture hall seat.
As I sat in class following the Virginia Tech shootings a year ago, I couldn't help but be suspicious of everything and everyone.
It's not that I thought someone was going to walk into my particular classroom and start unloading -- I realize the chances of this happening are about as small as my chances of retiring by age 30 -- but the events pushed my mind into "what if" mode.
Going to school on a large campus can be scary at times -- especially for incoming freshmen who are used to high school classes with less than 30 students -- but never more so than the days following tragedy.
The fear doesn't necessarily stem from the notion that danger is imminent, but rather from the idea that you don't know who people really are and what they are capable of, or how you would react to straits so dire.
The collective picture of the perpetrators is not an encouraging one, and rightfully so. The images of students banding together at memorials and vigils get locked in your mind.
And after all the fear and frustration and anger and hopelessness dissipate, all we've got is the future, where we ask, "How do we prevent this?"
Of course, to know the accurate prevention measures, we have to know the cause. Though everything from violence in media to Goth culture have been examined, there is only one major link behind the motives of the shooters of past school shootings: mental instability.
Looking back, everything from the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University incidents of the past year to the University of Texas clock tower and Cal State Fullerton Library massacres of 1966 and 1976, respectively, have had killers who had previously been receiving psychological treatment.
In the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, Quebec, the psychological and psychiatric profile of the killer contained in the coroner's report said, "The multiple homicide/suicide strategy is ... known to be a characteristic of individuals who have a serious personality disorder."
Perpetrators of violent massacres do not think rationally, and if they are social isolationists who don't have a close support group, prevention via medication and therapy can only be successful in stopping the relatively tame.
Trying to ensure nonviolence on this micro level is like trying to eliminate interethnic combat on the macro level. Not gonna happen.
So we focus on our safety. What do we do to protect ourselves? I know...
Let's talk about gun control!
With the increase in both violence and the attention paid to it with respect to college campuses, gun rights have been a topic that's been under much discussion.
Fantasies of vigilante justice fuel some students' desires to carry a concealed weapon to class. Currently, only Utah allows students to carry guns on campus. Even Texas has explicit bans.
Three years ago, a Virginia Tech student was reprimanded for carrying, and ensuing legislation to allow concealed weapons on colleges faltered before reaching the floor of the state Congress.
With this knowledge, one wonders if, had decisions been made differently, there is a small possibility there would have been less than 32 balloons released at Virginia Tech's first home football game.
On the contrary, guns shouldn't need to be allowed on campus.
After all, dorm rooms -- where many a party takes place -- are hardly the ideal setting for a gun to be readily available, and the frequency of school shootings is not high enough to convince many Americans that the rewards outweigh the risks.
Unfortunately, it is high enough that all campus and city police departments need to have measures in place for such emergencies.
In September 2006, Montreal's Dawson College learned response lessons from the aforementioned École Polytechnique episode. Instead of police waiting until the SWAT team arrived, they took immediate action, and only one student was murdered.
Arizona schools have begun purchasing long-range rifles for use in similar situations, and many other schools are re-evaluating their emergency-response procedures, but even those don't guarantee safety.
It takes a collaborative effort to keep us safe, but the burden should not be placed entirely on the students or the institution. Legislation needs to continue to be passed to help keep weapons from those who are dangerous to us, while preserving our individual rights, and we as concerned Americans need to encourage discussion of these matters within our congresses.
Colleges and universities are a place of wisdom and expansion. Fear and bullets surely seem the antithesis. E-mail to a friend
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