Preventing another Virginia Tech

Ten years ago, on April 16, 2007, a college student — who had been adjudicated a danger to himself in a court of law — bought two guns, went to his campus and committed two rounds of shootings in one morning.

The Virginia Tech shootings cost the lives of 32 people, physically injured at least 24 others, and traumatized hundreds more. The first two people were killed about two hours before the remaining 30.

Police forces and the university have learned from the events of that day, and I believe that police forces and colleges are far better prepared to be responsive today than they were then, largely as a result of this heart-wrenching tragedy.

However, there is still more that we as a society can and should do to prevent another such monstrous event. We need to make sure that every person in America who has been adjudicated a danger to themselves or others is barred from being able to buy a gun.

Before you tune out, thinking this is just another gun control appeal, know this: The NRA agrees. Over the years since the Virginia Tech shootings, the NRA, the National Shootings Sports Foundation, the Brady Campaign and the now-called Everytown for Gun Safety have been working to achieve this goal — and making progress. As well, it's a goal supported by our nation's largest mental health organization: NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Yet, the job is far from complete.

That's why, in connection with the 10th commemoration of the worst mass murder on an American college campus, the independent non-profit formed by the families of the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings and the survivors — the Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation — is making this issue our top priority by launching Campaign 32.

All the above groups have been working for years to get the states to enter those names into our National Instant Criminal Background Check System. While most states are now doing so to some degree, many are failing to do so fully, and some are not doing so at all. We must change that.

As one of the survivors of the Virginia Tech shootings — who still has bullets lodged in his body — has said about this, "A background check system is only as good as the records it contains — and my personal experience is proof of this fact."

The FBI reports that over the past 17 years more than 27,000 people have been blocked from buying a gun due to being entered into the system under the category, "Adjudicated Mental Health." No doubt, over that same period, many people who should not have been able to purchase a gun did so. That must stop.

We can't bring back the lives that have been lost or harmed, but we can try to make America better.

Paul Friedman is the executive director of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation and a lawyer who brings his experience as a prior congressional staffer, campaign manager and fundraiser for nonprofit charities and political organizations to VTV to help prevent Virginia Tech-type shootings through education and advocacy. He can be reached at pfriedman@vtvfamilyfoundation.org.

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