On April 16, 2007, an unprecedented act of violence rocked the hallways of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. A crazed gunman stalked from classroom to classroom, extinguishing the lives of 32 of Virginia’s brightest students before taking his own life in Room 211 of Norris Hall. Ten years later, that wing is completely renovated and is now home to The Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.
Every April 16, Virginia Tech hosts a Day of Remembrance, with students, faculty, and guests gathering to commemorate the faculty and students who died in that horrific attack.
Ten years later, the severity of the attack has only been eclipsed by one other mass shooting, the hate-fueled terrorist attack against LGBTQ+ patrons at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. So in the 10 years since the Virginia Tech shooting, what has changed in the wake of the questions and concerns raised?
Gun Laws Have Changed
The massacre at Virginia Tech added fuel to an ongoing gun control debate in a country already fiercely divided into two halves. One-half believes that guns are the problem, while the other half believes that guns are the solution. In the intervening decade, one side has come out the clear-cut winner, in Virginia at least. Since the Virginia Tech shooter, purchasing and carrying a gun is easier than ever.
Numerous restrictive gun laws in Virginia have been overturned. Gone is the law that restricts residents from purchasing more than one handgun per month. It is now legal to carry guns in the glove compartments of vehicles and getting concealed carry permits is easier than ever. In the midst of these sweeping changes, calls to expand background checks have gone unheeded as well.
Virginia isn’t the only state to relax gun regulations, either. A study titled “The Impact of Mass Shootings on Gun Policy,” published at Harvard University, examines how states enact laws following mass shootings. They found that in states with a Republican-controlled legislature, there is a 75 percent increase in the number of laws that loosen gun restrictions. In states with a Democratic majority legislature, there is no significant change of gun laws in either direction.
There was a significant victory for those who advocate for tighter gun controls; a bill that ensures that the mentally unstable are unable to purchase a gun was passed shortly after the mass shooting. The NICS Improvement Act gave incentives to health care providers to provide mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The act also allowed people to petition to have their gun rights restored. There was a brief kerfluffle in the media early in 2017 concerning the Republican Congress repealing this act, but in reality, they were only repealing a portion that dealt with recipients of Social Security.
Survivors Speak to ABC
In an interview with ABC, two survivors of the shooting spoke of their memories of that fateful day. Emily Haas was 19-years old in 2007 and was nearly shot in the head. Two bullets grazed her scalp as she lay huddled in Room 211. After the shooter killed himself, she was able to let emergency responders into the room to assist other survivors. Haas says that she rarely speaks about that day, but when she does, she strives to tell people to be kind to others.
“Because you never know what someone else is going through or what they’re struggling with, and if you think someone is suffering, try to get them help. We now know the shooter was really struggling with mental illness, and I think this [and many other] tragedies could be prevented if he’d had the help he so obviously needed.”
The family of Austin Cloyd, one of the 32 who died on April 16, 2007, spoke about their daughter’s zeal for life. According to them, Austin was highly motivated and had a huge love of life. In the aftermath of Austin’s death, her family dedicated themselves to their daughter’s community service project, Appalachia Service Project at Virginia Tech. They also started a scholarship in their daughter’s name, the Austin Michelle Cloyd Fellowship for Social Justice. This year, they awarded support to their 10th fellow.
The Virginia Tech Day of Remembrance Events ends on April 16, 2017, at 11:59 pm, EST. The ceremonial candle will be extinguished as the VT Corps of Cadets stands guard.
[Featured Image by Steve Helber/AP Images]