|Virginia Tech massacre|
People gather to mourn after the shooting.
|Location||Blacksburg, Virginia, United States|
|Date||April 16, 2007
c. 7:15 a.m.–9:51 a.m. (EDT)
|School shooting, mass murder, murder–suicide|
|Deaths||33 (including the perpetrator)|
|23 (17 by gunfire)|
The Virginia Tech massacre was a school shooting that took place on April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, United States. Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks, approximately two hours apart, before committing suicide (another six people were injured escaping from classroom windows). The massacre is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history and one of the deadliest by a single gunman worldwide.
Cho had previously been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder. During much of his middle school and high school years, he received therapy and special education support. After graduating from high school, Cho enrolled at Virginia Tech. Because of federal privacy laws, Virginia Tech was unaware of Cho's previous diagnosis or the accommodations he had been granted at school. In 2005, Cho was accused of stalking two female students. After an investigation, a Virginia special justice declared Cho mentally ill and ordered him to attend treatment. Lucinda Roy, a professor and former chairwoman of the English department, had asked Cho to seek counseling. Cho's mother turned to her church for help.
The attacks received international media coverage and drew widespread criticism of U.S. gun culture. It sparked intense debate about gun violence, gun laws, gaps in the U.S. system for treating mental health issues, the perpetrator's state of mind, the responsibility of college administrations, privacy laws, journalism ethics, and other issues. Television news organizations that aired portions of the killer's multimedia manifesto were criticized by victims' families, Virginia law enforcement officials, and the American Psychiatric Association.
The massacre prompted the state of Virginia to close legal loopholes that had previously allowed Cho, an individual adjudicated as mentally unsound, to purchase handguns without detection by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It also led to passage of the first major federal gun control measure in more than 13 years. The law strengthening the NICS was signed by President George W. Bush on January 5, 2008.
The Virginia Tech Review Panel, a state-appointed body assigned to review the incident, criticized Virginia Tech administrators for failing to take action that might have reduced the number of casualties. The panel's report also reviewed gun laws and pointed out gaps in mental health care as well as privacy laws that left Cho's deteriorating condition in college untreated.
|Part of a series of articles on the
Virginia Tech massacre
Perpetrator: Seung-Hui Cho
G. V. Loganathan
Cho used two firearms during the attacks: a .22-caliber Walther P22 semi-automatic handgun and a 9 mm semi-automatic Glock 19 handgun. The shootings occurred in separate incidents, with the first at West Ambler Johnston Hall, during which Cho killed two pupils, and the second at Norris Hall, where the other 31 deaths, including that of Cho himself, as well as all the nonlethal injuries, occurred.
Cho was seen near the entrance to West Ambler Johnston Hall, a co-ed residence hall that houses 894 students, at about 6:45 am EDT. Normally, the hall was accessible only to its residents via magnetic key cards before 10 am. Cho's student mailbox was in the lobby of the building, so he had a pass card access after 7:30 am, but it is unclear how he gained earlier entrance to the building.
Cho shot his first victims in West Ambler Johnston Hall. At around 7:15am, Cho entered the room in which freshman Emily J. Hilscher shared with another student. Hilscher, a 19-year-old from Woodville, Rappahannock County, Virginia, was fatally wounded. After hearing the gunshots, a male resident assistant, Ryan C. Clark, attempted to aid Hilscher. Cho shot and killed Clark, a 22-year-old-senior from Martinez, Columbia County, Georgia. Hilscher remained alive for three hours after being shot, but no one from the school, law enforcement or hospital notified her family until after she had died.
Cho left the scene and returned to his dorm room. While police and emergency medical services units were responding to the shootings in the dorm next door, Cho changed out of his bloodstained clothes, logged on to his computer to delete his e-mail, and then removed the hard drive. About an hour after the attack, Cho is believed to have been seen near the campus duck pond. Although authorities suspected Cho had thrown his hard drive and mobile phone into the water, a search was unsuccessful.
Almost two hours after the first killings, Cho appeared at a nearby post office and mailed a package of writings and video recordings to NBC News; the package was postmarked 9:01 am. He then walked to Norris Hall. In a backpack, he carried several chains, locks, a hammer, a knife, two handguns with nineteen 10 and 15 round magazines, and nearly 400 rounds of ammunition.
About two hours after the initial shootings, Cho entered Norris Hall, which houses the Engineering Science and Mechanics program among others, and chained the three main entrance doors shut. He placed a note on at least one of the chained doors, claiming that attempts to open the door would cause a bomb to explode. Shortly before the shooting began, a faculty member found the note and took it to the building's third floor to notify the school's administration. At about the same time, however, Cho had begun to shoot students and faculty on the second floor; the bomb threat was never called in. Within one or two minutes of the first shots, the first call to 9-1-1 was received.
According to several students, before the shooting began Cho looked into several classrooms. Erin Sheehan, an eyewitness and survivor who had been in room 207, told reporters that the shooter "peeked in twice" earlier in the lesson and that "it was strange that someone at this point in the semester would be lost, looking for a class". Cho's first attack after entering Norris occurred in an advanced hydrology engineering class taught by Professor G. V. Loganathan in room 206. Cho first shot and killed the professor, then continued firing, killing nine of the 13 students in the room and injuring two others. Next, Cho went across the hall to room 207, in which instructor Christopher James Bishop was teaching German. Cho killed Bishop and four students; six students were wounded. Cho then moved on to Norris 211 and 204. In both of these classrooms, Cho was initially prevented from entering, due to barricades erected by instructors and students. In room 204, Professor Liviu Librescu, an Israeli Holocaust survivor, forcibly prevented Cho from entering the room. Librescu was able to hold the door closed until most of his students escaped through the windows, but he died after being shot multiple times through the door. One student in his classroom was killed. Instructor Jocelyne Couture-Nowak and student Henry Lee were killed in room 211 as they attempted to barricade the door. Eleven students died in room 211; the six students who survived all suffered gunshot wounds.
Cho reloaded and revisited several of the classrooms. After Cho's first visit to room 207, several students had barricaded the door and had begun tending the wounded. When Cho returned minutes later, Katelyn Carney and Derek O'Dell were injured while holding the door closed. Cho also returned to room 206. According to a student eyewitness, the movements of a wounded Waleed Shaalan distracted Cho from a nearby student after the shooter had returned to the room. Shaalan was shot a second time and died. Also in room 206, Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan may have protected fellow student Guillermo Colman by diving on top of him. Colman's various accounts make it unclear whether this act was intentional or the involuntary result of being shot. Multiple gunshots killed Lumbantoruan, but Colman was protected by Lumbantoruan's body.
Students, including Zach Petkewicz, barricaded the door of room 205 with a large table after substitute professor Haiyan Cheng and a student saw Cho heading toward them. Cho shot through the door several times but failed to force his way in. No one in that classroom was wounded or killed.
Hearing the commotion on the floor below, Professor Kevin Granata took 20 students from a third-floor classroom into his office where the door could be locked. He then went downstairs to investigate and was gunned down by Cho. None of the students locked in Granata's office were injured or killed.
Approximately 10–12 minutes after the second attack began, Cho shot himself in his right temple with the Glock 19. He died in Jocelyne Couture-Nowak's Intermediate French class, room 211. During this second assault, he had fired at least 174 rounds, killing 30 people and wounding 17 more. All of the victims were shot at least three times each; of the 30 killed, 28 were shot in the head. During the investigation, State Police Superintendent William Flaherty told a state panel that police found 203 live rounds in Norris Hall. "He was well prepared to continue...," Flaherty testified.
During the two attacks, Cho killed five faculty members and 27 students before committing suicide. The Virginia Tech Review Panel reported that Cho's gunshots wounded 17 other people; six more were injured when they jumped from second-story windows to escape. Sydney J. Vail, the director of the trauma center at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, said that Cho's choice of 9 mm hollow-point ammunition increased the severity of the injuries. Conversely, due to the limited penetration depth of hollow point bullets, it is likely that Colman would have died had they not been used.
The shooter was identified as 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho, a South Korean citizen with U.S. permanent resident status. An undergraduate at Virginia Tech, Cho lived in Harper Hall, a dormitory west of West Ambler Johnston Hall.
The Virginia Tech Review Panel's August 2007 report devoted more than 127 pages to Cho's troubled history. At three years of age, Cho was described as shy, frail, and wary of physical contact. While early media reports carried speculation by South Korean relatives that Cho had autism, the Review Panel report dismissed this diagnosis. In eighth grade, Cho was diagnosed with severe depression as well as selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that inhibited him from speaking. Cho's family sought therapy for him, and he received help periodically throughout middle school and high school. Early reports also indicated Cho was bullied for speech difficulties in middle school, but the Virginia Tech Review Panel was unable to confirm this, or other reports that he was ostracized and mercilessly bullied for class, height and race related reasons in high school causing some anti-bullying advocates to feel that the Review Panel was engaging in an authority-absolving whitewash. Supposedly, high school officials had worked with his parents and mental health counselors to support Cho throughout his sophomore and junior years. Cho eventually chose to discontinue therapy. When he applied and was admitted to Virginia Tech, school officials did not report his speech and anxiety-related problems or special education status because of federal privacy laws that prohibit such disclosure unless a student requests special accommodation.
The Virginia Tech Review Panel detailed numerous incidents of aberrant behavior beginning in Cho's junior year of college that should have served as a warning to his deteriorating mental condition. Several former professors of Cho reported that his writing as well as his classroom behavior was disturbing, and he was encouraged to seek counseling. He was also investigated by the university for stalking and harassing two female students. In 2005, Cho had been declared mentally ill by a Virginia special justice and ordered to seek outpatient treatment.
The Virginia Tech Review Panel Report faulted university officials for failing to share information that would have shed light on the seriousness of Cho's problems, citing misinterpretations of federal privacy laws. The report also pointed to failures by Virginia Tech's counseling center, flaws in Virginia's mental health laws, and inadequate state mental health services, but concluded that "Cho himself was the biggest impediment to stabilizing his mental health" in college. The report also stated that the classification detail that Cho was to seek "outpatient" rather than "inpatient" treatment would generally have been legally interpreted at the time as not requiring that Cho be reported to Virginia's Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE) and entered into the CCRE database of people prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm.
Cho's underlying psychological diagnosis at the time of the shootings remains a matter of speculation. Some teachers, having seen many troubled students over the years and sensing deep problems with Cho, attempted to 'manage the situation' in such a way as to not alienate him and to allow him to successfully graduate with his reputation still intact.
Early reports suggested that the killings resulted from a romantic dispute between Cho and Emily Hilscher, one of his first two victims. However, Hilscher's friends said she had no prior relationship with Cho and there is no evidence that he ever met or talked with her before the murders. In the ensuing investigation, police found a suicide note in Cho's dorm room that included comments about "rich kids", "debauchery", and "deceitful charlatans". On April 18, 2007, NBC News received a package from Cho time-stamped between the first and second shooting episodes. It contained an 1,800-word manifesto, photos, and 27 digitally recorded videos, in which Cho likened himself to Jesus Christ and expressed his hatred of the wealthy. He stated, among other things, "You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option...You just loved to crucify me. You loved inducing cancer in my head, terror in my heart and ripping my soul all this time". Media organizations, including Newsweek, MSNBC, Reuters and the Associated Press, even raised questions and speculated the similarity between a stance in one of Cho's videos, which showed him holding and raising a hammer, and a pose from promotional posters for the South Korean movie Oldboy. Investigators found no evidence that Cho had ever watched Oldboy, and the professor who made the initial connection to Oldboy had since discounted his theory that Cho was influenced by the movie. The Virginia Tech Review Panel concluded that because of Cho's inability to handle stress and the "frightening prospect" of being "turned out into the world of work, finances, responsibilities, and a family," Cho chose to engage in a fantasy in which "he would be remembered as the savior of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, and the rejected." The panel went further, stating that, "His thought processes were so distorted that he began arguing to himself that his evil plan was actually doing good. His destructive fantasy was now becoming an obsession."
Police arrived within three minutes of receiving an emergency call but took about five minutes to enter the barricaded building. When they could not break the chains, an officer shot out a deadbolt lock leading into a laboratory; they then moved to a nearby stairwell. As police reached the second floor, they heard Cho fire his final shot; Cho's body was discovered in Jocelyne Couture-Nowak's classroom, room 211.
In the aftermath, high winds related to the April 2007 nor'easter prevented emergency medical services from using helicopters for evacuation of the injured. Victims injured in the shooting were treated at Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg, Carilion New River Valley Medical Center in Radford, Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, Holston Valley Hospital in Kingsport, TN and Lewis-Gale Medical Center in Salem.
The university first informed students via e-mail at 9:26 am, about two hours after the first shooting, which was thought at the time to be isolated and domestic in nature. After the full extent of the massacre became evident, Virginia Tech canceled classes for the rest of the week and held an assembly and candlelight vigil on April 17. Norris Hall was closed for the remainder of the semester. The university offered counseling for students and faculty, and the American Red Cross dispatched several dozen crisis counselors to Blacksburg to help students. University officials also allowed students, if they chose, to abbreviate their semester coursework and still receive a grade.
Within a day after the shootings, Virginia Tech, whose students call themselves The Hokies, formed the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund (HSMF) to help remember and honor the victims. The fund is used to cover expenses including, but not limited to: assistance to victims and their families, grief counseling, memorials, communications expenses, and comfort expenses. Early in June 2007, the Virginia Tech Foundation announced that US$3.2 million was moved from the HSMF into 32 separate named endowment funds, each created in honor of a victim lost in the shooting. This transfer brought each fund to the level of full endowment, allowing them to operate in perpetuity. The naming and determination of how each fund will be directed is being developed with the victims' families. By early June, donations to the HSMF had reached approximately US$7 million. In July 2007, Kenneth R. Feinberg, who served as Special Master of the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, was named to administer the fund's distributions. In October 2007, the families and surviving victims received payments ranging from $11,500 to $208,000 from the fund.
Also early in June 2007, the university announced it would begin reoccupying Norris Hall within a matter of weeks. The building is used for offices and laboratories for the Engineering Science and Mechanics and Civil and Environmental Engineering departments, its primary occupants before the shootings. The building is to be completely renovated over time, and it will no longer contain classrooms.
After the release of the Virginia Tech Review Panel Report, some parents of those killed called for Virginia's governor to relieve the university president and campus police chief of their positions. However, Governor Tim Kaine refused to do so, saying that the school officials had "suffered enough".
In the hours and days following the shooting, makeshift memorials to those killed or injured began appearing in several locations on the campus. Many people placed flowers and items of remembrance at the base of the Drillfield observation podium in front of Burruss Hall. Later, members of Hokies United placed 32 pieces of Hokie Stone, each labeled with the name of a victim, in a semicircle in front of the Drillfield viewing stand. There is a ground light for nighttime illumination in front of each memorial stone and a bench nearby in honor of the survivors.
Tech students of South Korean descent initially feared they would be targeted for retribution. While no official claims of harassment were made, anecdotal evidence suggests that some Korean students were affected.
The shootings occurred as prospective students were deciding whether to accept offers of admission from colleges and universities. Despite this timing, Virginia Tech exceeded its recruiting goal of 5,000 students for the class of 2011.
President George W. Bush and his wife Laura attended the convocation at Virginia Tech the day after the shootings. The Internal Revenue Service and Virginia Department of Taxation granted six-month extensions to individuals affected by the shootings. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine returned early from a trade mission to Tokyo, Japan, and declared a state of emergency in Virginia, enabling him to immediately deploy state personnel, equipment, and other resources in the aftermath of the shootings.
Governor Kaine[who?] later created an eight-member panel, including former United States Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, to review all aspects of the Virginia Tech massacre, from Cho's medical history to the school's widely criticized delay in warning students of danger and locking down the campus after the bodies of Cho's first two victims were discovered. In August 2007, the panel concluded, among more than 20 major findings, that the Virginia Tech Police Department "did not take sufficient action to deal with what might happen if the initial lead proved false". The panel made more than 70 preventative recommendations, directed to colleges, universities, mental health providers, law enforcement officials, emergency service providers, law makers and other public officials in Virginia and elsewhere. While the panel did find errors in judgment and procedure, the ultimate conclusion was that Cho himself was responsible for his own actions, and to imply that anyone else was accountable "would be wrong." The Review Panel validated public criticisms that university officials erred in "prematurely concluding that their initial lead in the double homicide was a good one," and in delaying a campus-wide notification for almost two hours. The report analyzed the feasibility of a campus lockdown and essentially agreed with police testimony that such an action was not feasible. The report concluded that the toll could have been reduced if the university had made an immediate decision to cancel classes and a stronger, clearer initial alert of the presence of a gunman.
The incident also caused Virginia Commonwealth elected officials to re-examine gaps between federal and state gun purchase laws. Within two weeks, Governor Kaine had issued an executive order designed to close those gaps (see Gun politics debate, below). Prompted by the incident, the federal government passed the most significant gun control law in over a decade. The bill, H.R. 2640, mandates improvements in state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in order to halt gun purchases by criminals, those declared mentally ill, and other people prohibited from possessing firearms and authorizes up to $1.3 billion in federal grants for such improvements. Both the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the National Rifle Association supported the legislation. The measure passed the United States House of Representatives on a voice vote on June 13, 2007. The Senate passed the measure on December 19, 2007. President Bush signed the measure on January 5, 2008. On March 24, 2008, the U.S. Department of Education announced proposed changes in the regulations governing education records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Certain of the changes address issues raised by the Virginia Tech incident and are intended to clarify for schools the appropriate balance to strike between concerns of individual privacy and public safety.
When the citizenship of the shooter became known, South Koreans expressed shock and a sense of public shame, while the Government of South Korea convened an emergency meeting to consider possible ramifications. A candlelight vigil was held outside the Embassy of the United States, Seoul. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun expressed his deepest condolences. Although Cho came to the US as a third grader and was a permanent resident of the US, many South Koreans felt guilt and mourned because they considered him a South Korean by blood.
South Korea's ambassador to the US and several Korean American religious leaders called on Korean Americans to participate in a 32-day fast, one day for each victim, for repentance. The foreign minister, Song Minsoon, announced that safety measures had been established for Koreans living in the US, in apparent reference to fears of possible reprisal attacks. A ministry official expressed hope that the shooting would not "stir up racial prejudice or confrontation". No such incidents were ever reported.
Some Korean Americans criticized the fasting proposal, saying that it directed undue and irrelevant attention on Cho's ethnicity and not other, more salient, reasons behind the shooting. News reports noted that South Koreans seemed relieved that American news coverage of Cho focused on his psychological problems. The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) pulled its "Sparkling Korea" television said it would be inappropriate to air the advertisements featuring images of Korea's culture and natural beauty in between the news reports of the rampage.
The Construction Industry Institute (CII), a University of Texas-based research institute promoting collaboration between industry and academia, had a relationship with Tech before the tragedy—having sponsored several VT-led engineering research projects. CII felt the loss deeply and upon learning of the tragedy, CII members immediately sought to develop a positive response. In just a few months, CII worked with Virginia Tech faculty to design a three-credit graduate class teaching CII Best Practices to the future leaders of the construction industry. The first class was taught in Fall 2007 over three weekends by subject matter experts from CII member companies Procter & Gamble, KBR, Fluor Corporation, the Smithsonian Institution, BE&K, Department of State, and CII staff.
Hundreds of other colleges and universities throughout North America responded to the incident with official condolences and by conducting their own vigils, memorial services, and gestures of support. Some schools went beyond this and offered or provided cash donations and other forms of expertise and support, such as housing for officers and additional counseling support for Virginia Tech. Both inside the U.S. and abroad, the incident caused many universities to re-examine their own campus safety and security procedures as well as their mental health support services.
Some of Cho's family members expressed sympathy for the victims' families and described his history of mental and behavioral problems. Cho's maternal grandfather was quoted in The Daily Mirror referring to Cho as a person who deserved to die with the victims. On Friday, April 20, Cho's family issued a statement of grief and apology, written by his sister, Sun-Kyung Cho.
Many heads of state and international figures offered condolences and sympathy, including Pope Benedict XVI, Queen Elizabeth II, and South Korean UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Sporting teams and leagues at both the college and professional levels, as well as sports figures from football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, and NASCAR racing, paid their respects and joined fundraising efforts to honor the victims, most notably regional teams the Washington Nationals, who wore Virginia Tech hats in a game, and D.C. United, who wore special Virginia Tech jerseys during a game; NASCAR put Virginia Tech decals on all its cars for three weeks.
EQUITAS, a Canada-based "Strategic Rule of law Think Tank" governed by international law, published a report pertaining to the Virginia Tech massacre which includes a review of measures for counter-terrorism and campus security adopted between 1993 and April 16, 2007. The report criticizes Virginia Tech's institutional decision-making process and summarizes the lethal effects of failing to "implement and administer valid procedural and substantive safeguards aimed at securing the broad Va Tech and Blacksburg community against Level II type incidents involving acts of terrorism and mass casualties". The report does not comment on gun control or mental health issues.
On July 30, 2007, after it came to light that Seung-Hui Cho had purchased on eBay two 10-round magazines for one of the guns used in the shootings, the online auctioneer prohibited the sale of firearms magazines, firearms parts, and ammunition components on its site.
A Northern Virginia chapter of the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, founded in November 2008 by Aaron Adler and Ethan Blonder, took on the name Liviu Librescu AZA, in honor of the Holocaust survivor who used his body to barricade Cho from entering his room.
On September 4, 2009, the Marching Virginians took a 140 mile side-trip on their way to the season opening football game against the University of Alabama at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The 350 member band, 20 cheerleaders and members of the Corps of Cadets color guard performed at Lakeside High School, alma mater of Ryan Clark, along with the Lakeside Marching Band and visiting Evans High's band. The event was organized by Central Savannah River Area Virginia Tech alumni chapter to honor Clark's memory and as a fundraiser for a scholarship in his name.
Beginning with the first anniversary of the attack and continuing since, the Queens' Guard of The College of William & Mary, another public university in Virginia, has memorialized the victims with an honor guard at the head of the College's Sunken Garden. The unarmed honor guard is modeled after the honor guard posted at the Tomb of the Unknowns by soldiers of the US Army's Old Guard.
Following the 2007 shootings, Virginia Tech began employing an alert system on their website and text messages to warn students of danger. The alert system was first activated in 2008 when an exploded cartridge from a nail gun produced sounds similar to gunfire near a campus dormitory. It was later activated on August 4, 2011, when children attending a summer class reported a man carrying a handgun; police were unable to find anyone matching the children's description. Later in 2011, on December 8, the system was activated again after a police officer was shot and killed on campus. This turned out to be a random act by a part-time Radford University student. He had carjacked a Mercedes SUV earlier in the day in nearby Radford and had parked it in the general area of a Virginia Tech parking lot where the victim officer was conducting a routine traffic stop on a third party. The shooter turned the gun on himself a half-hour later.
Sociology professor Kenneth Westhues has criticized the Virginia Tech response to the shootings and the Massengill Report. Westhues identifies the cause of the shootings as mobbing Cho experienced in the Virginia Tech English department, and suggests that the explanation for the Virginia Tech shootings should go beyond what he calls the "defective character" explanation:
A more truthful (and therefore more useful) explanation of the Virginia Tech murders focuses not on Cho's character but on the interaction between it and the situations he was in, not on his personal identity but on the interplay between who he was and how other people treated him.
Westhues cites the experiences of another Virginia Tech student in the same department as being very similar to Cho's. Westhues has criticized Virginia Tech and the Massengill Report for failing to advance a fuller explanation of the causes of the shootings, which he suggests should be one of "character-situation interplay".
The incident reignited the gun politics debate in the United States, with proponents of gun control legislation arguing that guns are too accessible, citing that Cho, a mentally unsound individual, was able to purchase two semi-automatic pistols despite state laws which should have prevented such purchase. Opponents of gun control argued that Virginia Tech's gun-free "safe zone" policy ensured that none of the other students or faculty would be armed and that as a result they were unable to stop Cho.
Law enforcement officials found a purchase receipt for one of the guns used in the assault among Cho's belongings. The shooter waited one month after buying a Walther P22 pistol before he bought a second pistol, a Glock 19. Cho used a 15-round magazine in the Glock and a 10-round magazine in the Walther. The serial numbers on the weapons were filed off, but the ATF National Laboratory was able to reveal them and performed a firearms trace.
The sale of firearms by licensed dealers in Virginia is restricted to residents who successfully pass a background check. Virginia law also limits purchases of handguns to one every 30 days. Federal law requires a criminal background check for handgun purchases from licensed firearms dealers, and Virginia checks other databases in addition to the federally mandated NICS. A 1968 federal law passed in response to the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., also prohibits those "adjudicated as a mental defective" from buying guns. This exclusion applied to Cho after a Virginia court declared him to be a danger to himself in late 2005 and sent him for psychiatric treatment. Because of gaps between federal and Virginia state laws, the state did not report Cho's legal status to the NICS. Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine addressed this problem on April 30, 2007, by issuing an executive order intended to close those reporting gaps. In August 2007, the Virginia Tech Review Panel report called for a permanent change in the Code of Virginia to clarify and strengthen the state's background check requirements. The federal government later passed a law to improve state reporting to the NICS nationwide.
The shootings also renewed debate surrounding Virginia Tech's firearms ban. The university has a general ban on possession or storage of firearms on campus by employees, students, and volunteers, or any visitor or other third parties, even if they are concealed handgun permit holders. In April 2005, a student permitted by the state to carry concealed handguns was discovered in possession of a concealed firearm while in class. While no criminal charges were filed, a university spokesman said the University had "the right to adhere to and enforce that policy as a common-sense protection of students, staff and faculty as well as guests and visitors".
In January 2006, prior to the shootings, legislator Todd Gilbert had introduced a related bill into the Virginia House of Delegates. The bill, HB 1572, was intended to forbid public universities in Virginia from preventing students from lawfully carrying a concealed handgun on campus. The university opposed the bill, which quickly died in subcommittee. Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker praised the defeat of the bill, stating, "I'm sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly's actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus."
In August 2007, the Virginia Tech Review Panel Report recommended that the state's General Assembly adopt legislation "establishing the right of every institution of higher education to regulate the possession of firearms on campus if it so desires" and went on to recommend campus gun bans, "unless mandated by law." The report also recommended gun control measures unrelated to the circumstances of the massacre, such as requiring background checks for all private firearms sales, including those at gun shows. Governor Kaine made it a priority to enact a private sale background check law in the 2008 Virginia General Assembly, but the bill was defeated in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. Pro gun rights parties viewed this larger move as an unwarranted expansion and as a possible prelude waypoint akin to full gun registration for all gun sales.
The incident and its aftermath energized student activist efforts seeking to overturn bans that prevent gun holders (both 'open carry' and 'concealed carry permit' holders) from carrying their weapons on college campuses. Thirty-eight states throughout the U.S. ban weapons at schools; sixteen of those specifically ban guns on college campuses. A new group, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, formed after the massacre; as of March 2008, it claimed to have 16,000 members at 500 campuses nationwide. Several states are weighing legislation to allow gun permit holders to carry concealed firearms on university campuses. They cite cases of actual successful neutralization of active campus shooters by armed students to advance their cause. Another attempt by Delegate Gilbert to pass a law to allow concealed weapons on college campuses in Virginia was defeated in March 2008. This law was for the sake of students and faculty members only since the AG ruled that it did not apply to non-students and non-faculty on campus who could carry concealed without restriction on campus. This law would have largely affected students 21 years or older since younger people are not allowed to purchase handguns.
The response to how gun laws affected the massacre was divided. According to a White House statement, "The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed". The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said that it was too easy for an individual to get powerful weapons and called for increased gun control measures.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent, commenting on CNN, called for an end to gun-free zones and contrasted the Virginia Tech massacre with other incidents in which mass shootings have been ended by law-abiding gun owners. Texas Governor Rick Perry proposed that licensed gun owners be allowed to carry their weapons anywhere in Texas.
Some government officials in other countries joined in the criticism of U.S. gun laws and policies. For example, then Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that stringent legislation introduced after a 1996 mass shooting in Tasmania had prevented a problematic gun culture in Australia.
Virginia Governor Tim Kaine condemned the gun politics debate following the massacre, saying, "To those who want to make this into some sort of crusade, I say take this elsewhere." Pro gun rights advocates argued that they are merely responding to the crusade by some to use this tragedy as a basis for an expansion of anti-gun measures for issues beyond the shootings as perceived to be presented by the VA TECH Review Panel.
On June 17, 2008, Judge Theodore J. Markow approved an $11 million settlement in a suit against the state of Virginia by 24 of the 32 victims' families. Of the other eight victims, two families chose not to file claims, while two remain unresolved. The settlement also covered 18 people who were injured; their lifelong health care needs included in the settlement.
The Department of Education fined the University $55,000 on March 29, 2011, for waiting too long to notify students of the initial shootings. The fine was the highest amount that the Department of Education could levy for the two violations of the Clery Act resulting from the failure to notify students in a timely manner of the shootings in West Ambler Johnston. In announcing the fine against the University, the director of a department panel which reviewed the case was quoted as saying "While Virginia Tech's violations warrant a fine far in excess of what is currently permissible under the statute, the department's fine authority is limited." As of March 30, 2011, the University had announced its intention to appeal the decision.
On March 14, 2012, a jury found that Virginia Tech was guilty of negligence for delaying a campus warning. The parents of two students who were killed filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit that argued that lives could have been spared if school officials had moved more quickly to alert the campus after the first two victims were shot in a dorm.
However, on Thursday, October 31, 2013, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed the lower state court jury's 2012 ruling that the University had been negligent in warning students quickly enough about Cho's impending rampage. The trial judge in the lower court had instructed the jury that there was a "special relationship" between the school and slain students Erin Nicole Peterson and Julia Kathleen Pryde, since the two women were "business invitees" of the University. The two women's families had filed that particular lawsuit. In rejecting the decision, the state Supreme Court said that "even if there was a special relationship between the Commonwealth (meaning the state of Virginia, and its affiliated agencies, such as Virginia Tech) and students of Virginia Tech ... there was no duty for the Commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts by third parties." The state has claimed that ultimate responsibility rested with Cho for not seeking assistance prior to the shooting. The two families had not joined in a previous settlement with the other families.
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