Today’s shooting at Purdue University will reopen the ongoing debate in the United States regarding gun control. The incident at Purdue left one victim dead, and a male suspect is already in custody. At this point it is believed that this was not designed to be a “mass casualty” event and according to Purdue University Police Chief John Cox, the suspect had intentions specifically for the victim. The suspect is not cooperating with authorities however and no information is being released regarding the possible motive in the shooting.
The victim has yet to be identified but the Purdue University school newspaper is reporting that the victim was a teaching assistant at the school. The suspect was apprehended almost immediately after the shooting as he exited the electrical engineering building where the incident took place. The Purdue campus was on lockdown for approximately two hours, but has since reopened. Currently the majority of the Purdue campus is conducting regular business and class activities, aside from the aforementioned electrical engineering building. While it is fortunate that there was no further loss of life in this case, the Purdue University shooting seems certain to reopen the ongoing debate regarding gun control in the U.S.
The past few years have seen several tragic, gun related incidents in the U.S. From the attempted assassination of former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords at a public gathering in 2011, to the Aurora theater shooting, to the terrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, so-called “mass casualty” events involving guns have remained on the front page of the public consciousness. Consequently such events have then become the focus of politicians on both sides of the spectrum.
Some argue that these incidents, and their increasing frequency, are proof that gun laws in the U.S. are too lax and that increased governmental controls are necessary. Others argue that broad legislation and restrictions would not have prevented these events, nor would deter more from occurring in the future. Regardless of the point of view, each new incident reopens the gun control debate and today’s Purdue University shooting will continue that trend.
The most recent round of proposals on the gun control issue began in earnest after the Sandy Hook incident. President Barack Obama pressed Congress for new gun control legislation that would include a new ban on assault style weapons, limits on magazine size, outlaw certain types of armor piercing ammunition, and conduct more research into the causes of gun related violence. This effort fell short of passing any significant legislation on the issue as it was highly unpopular in the Republican controlled House of Representatives and fell short of garnering the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.
Gun control opponents instead have drawn attention to the mental health system in the U.S., noting that in many of these “mass casualty” events, the perpetrator has some history of mental illness of one type or another. Indeed this was true in each of the three most significant cases noted.
From this perspective the solution is not stricter controls on the guns themselves; it is an increased investment in the mental health system. If these dangerous individuals can be identified and treated, then they will not be in a position to obtain a gun and carry out some sort of massacre. Other gun control opponents note that people planning to use guns to kill others are already unlikely to follow applicable laws in the first place. The result of increased legislation then is only to complicate the process for law-abiding citizens and reduce their ability to protect themselves.
College campuses like Purdue have become an essential part of this ongoing debate. Virginia Tech University was the site of another “mass casualty” incident back in 2007 and ever since then colleges have had to address the issue of guns on their campus and the safety of their students and faculty. In many ways, such campuses have become a “microcosm” of the larger debate as student groups on both sides of the issue organize to both support and oppose broader gun control legislation.
President Obama and gun control supporters noted after their legislation failed in 2013 that they would continue the effort to obtain stricter gun control laws. Historically each time there is an incident such as the Purdue shooting this morning, it brings gun control back into the public consciousness and onto the lips of politicians from both sides eager to use the issue to gain support for their next reelection campaign. Today’s Purdue University shooting will reopen the debate on gun control once again in the days and weeks to come.
By Christopher V. Spencer