At this point, it still seems unclear what happened at VA Tech, and like all tragedies, there probably would have been, in hindsight, many places where someone could have intervened and stopped the madness. One area that needs to be examined is the role of campus disciplinary systems.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of campus ‘courts’, ever since my days as an undergraduate, where cut-and-dry cases of rape (neither side really disputed what happened) were basically whitewashed, sometimes egregiously so (in one case, the rapist had to write a letter of apology and was suspended for a semester. I’m sure that made the other women feel safe and valued). Rape victims were often encouraged or pressured into these systems because they were told that it would be less stressful. What they often weren’t told is that the punishment would be very mild. But what’s as bad as the miscarriage of justice is that the crime is never entered into the public judicial system.
It appears that the VA Tech shooter had a previous history of stalking:
The gunman blamed for the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history had previously been accused of stalking two female students and had been taken to a mental health facility in 2005 after his parents worried he might be suicidal, police said Wednesday.
Cho Seung-Hui had concerned one woman enough with his calls and e-mail in 2005 that police were called in, said Police Chief Wendell Flinchum.
He said the woman declined to press charges and Cho was referred to the university disciplinary system.
Again, we won’t know what happened for a while, if ever. It’s also not clear to me if a stalking conviction would be enough to forbid a gun sale in Virginia (it is grounds for possible dismissal of a concealed weapons permit). That’s a craziness for another time. If we’re serious about stopping gun violence, I would like to think that most sane people would agree that stalkers shouldn’t have guns (Hinckley comes to mind). But no one had any way of even knowing he had this history because of the parallel and separate campus system.
Update: According to CNN, Cho was “declared mentally ill by a Virginia special justice, who declared he was “an imminent danger to others,” a court document states.” This was in reference to suicide behavior, and not the stalking. This could be a failure of the VA justice system too.