This article is the first part of a five-part series examining the issue of guns on college campuses.
In an interview granted last week, John Woods, a founder of Texas Gun Sense, discussed his history with gun violence and the goals of his organization toward future gun control policies. In particular, the group believes that “universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and additional limitations on weapons designed to do enormous amounts of damage very quickly.”
The non-profit also “oppose legislation that would force educational institutions to allow guns in classrooms.” The group believes that “campus safety is something best provided by the campus administrators and police chiefs at our educational institutions.”
The interview, conducted via email and phone on March 13, Mr. Woods discussed his past experience with gun violence and a deeply personal loss.
John Woods was a student at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 when fellow student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and wounded 17 others during two separate attacks about two hours apart before committed suicide. Among those killed was Mr. Woods’ girlfriend, Maxine Turner. Mr. Woods serves as a spokesperson for the family and has directed his attention to advocating for “common sense regulations on firearms”.
Amanda Amaya: In your opinion, what does the term "universal background checks" mean? Is it an expansion of the current NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) background checks to include more records? Or does it mean doing a background check every time for every purchase, including those between private sellers?
John Woods: Universal background checks means checks on all transfers, FFL (Federal Firearms License) or private, except between immediate family members.
AA: When you state you support restrictions on "high capacity magazines" is there a particular number of rounds that you would like to see those limited to (i.e. 5 or 10)?
JW: I was looking at the list of fatal encounters over the last fifteen years for NYPD officers, and only one involved more than ten shots being fired. In that case, the police officers were unarmed, and the suspect used 20 or 30 round magazines, fired 56 shots, and killed four people.
So if NYPD cops don't ever need more than ten bullets to do it, I feel like it's going to be rare that private citizens need more than ten bullets.
AA: What else do you think colleges can do in order to promote campus safety other than allowing guns on campus?
JW: Number one: make mental health care more accessible than firearms. Number two: implement behavioral concerns hotlines that one can call when one is worried about a friend. This isn't a disciplinary phone number, by the way; it's just a place you can call if you think someone might need some help. Take a look at UT's Behavioral Concerns Advice Line if you have a chance.
In general, I think that campus safety can never be a day-of issue. We need to focus on prevention in the days, weeks, months, and years before a hypothetical event. Focusing on the day of is a recipe for tragedy.
The University of Texas has a hotline that is manned 24/7 and can link a student or staff member with a professional that can discuss their concerns with them. Confidentiality can be maintained to a certain extent.
Per their website, the Behavioral Concerns Advice Line “provides a central resource to anyone who is concerned about an individual, but may not be sure how best to help them.”
In the next part of this interview, Mr. Woods discusses his thoughts regarding mental health on campus and what he feels could have been done to prevent the Virginia Tech massacre.
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