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Horrific shooting renews campus security debate

As reports of the death toll from the shooting at Virginia Tech University steadily rose on Monday, the immensity of the situation became more and more clear: Not only was this the worst school shooting in U.S. history, it was the worst shooting rampage this country has ever seen.

In 1999, news of the Columbine High School shooting shattered the nation. The previously unfathomable concept that a student would bring a weapon to school and harm classmates and teachers suddenly became a harsh reality. Middle schools and high schools started conducting lockdown drills, and school administrators were told to look out for signs that someone may be planning an act of violence.

Now we are hearing similar warnings to those we heard after Columbine. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal dug up a late 1990s FBI report warning of “a copycat effect … after these events.”

The results of the Virginia Tech investigation could prove to shape the security measures of colleges around the nation, including our own.

While it is difficult to compare a school as vast and populous as Virginia Tech to our small college, the two institutions do share one important thing in common: they are public schools with open campuses.

The College recently switched to 24-hour swipe access, partially due to the College’s own tragedy last spring. The policy has led to numerous complaints, and administrators have asserted that it is a trial run that will be re-evaluated at a later time.

Many people, including College President R. Barbara Gitenstein, appreciate the value of the campus remaining as free and accessible as possible. But Monday’s tragedy brings up a question that unfortunately must be addressed: Have we reached a time when it is too unsafe to allow everyone access to the campus?

Some people will say this incident shows that the need for stricter security procedures is long overdue. On the other hand, some people will question whether bolstering security will even make a difference. After all, that same FBI report concedes that in the end, “There may not be a single thing that can be done to prevent a mission-oriented person from committing an act of violence.”

The College administration must review its own security policies to ensure that a sufficient system is in place to protect members of the campus community in a threatening situation. Once we learn more about the Virginia Tech incident, further changes may be necessary.

For now, all we can do is feel for those who were affected by this horrific act. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

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