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Commentary: Virginia Tech: One Year Later

By Dawn McMullan, KERA Commentator

Dallas, TX –

A year has passed since 32 teachers and students were gunned down on the campus of Virginia Tech.

The images of the young gunman with a gun in each hand in one photo and a gun to his head in another seem to have faded, as details do until they apply directly to us, it seems.

A friend of mine here in Dallas went to Virginia Tech. A year ago this Wednesday, she sat glued to CNN. Unlike most of us, who just turned to the next news story within a few days, the Virginia Tech shootings stayed with my friend. She quickly went from tearful loathing of the gun violence that scarred forever her alma mater where she met her husband and never locked her doors to proposing a theme of peace at our children's Montessori school.

Turned out our school had been one step ahead of her even before the shooting. One elementary class has a peace rose, which the teacher gives to kids, say, arguing over a book. The person holding the peace rose is the only one who can talk. They say how they feel, then the other child takes the rose, repeating back what they heard the first child say. Back and forth until everyone has had their say and the conflict is resolved, at least for the moment. This format teaches kids to find the words to express their anger.

My friend's personal mission to make peace a priority to the 167 kids at our school continued as the idea of internal peace became a subtle theme for the year and included a parent-teacher organization meeting on handling anger. Still looking for more ways to make changes, she also plans to do community service in memory of those killed, as requested through Virginia Tech. So far, Virignia Tech students, faculty employees, alumni and others connected to university have pledged more than 410,000 community service hours.

Others reacted to the shootings much differently. While Utah is the only state that allows guns on college campuses guns are allowed even in dorms there other states are trying to follow suit. Six states have pending legislation that would allow guns on all public and private campuses. Four are trying to allow them only on public colleges. Two want to allow only professors and employees to carry guns.

None of this proposed legislation has passed so far. In Oklahoma, legislation to allow students to carry guns in public universities failed to make it through the House and Senate.

Conservative bloggers indicate proposed legislation is in the works to change Texas laws that make it illegal to carry a weapon on a college campus even if you have a concealed weapons permit. After the shootings at Virginia Tech last year, Gov. Rick Perry suggested the same when he said: "It makes sense for Texans to be able to protect themselves from deranged individuals."

Or does it make more sense to focus on peace in our schools and less on arming our students?

Before Virginia Tech, the tower shootings at the University of Texas were the worst campus shootings in history. Charles Whitman killed 14 people the summer of 1966, making the issue quite personal for the people of his time.

Fast forward 41 years to April 16, 2007, when 32 real names of real people hit us in the gut as we saw their faces and watched their funerals. Since that day, we've had 32 more college campus shootings. Can we learn from their personal experiences or do we have to wait until we have another tragedy of our own?

Dawn McMullan is a freelance writer.

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