Virginia Tech Shooting: Background Record Check System Should Still Be Improved, Says Former Governor

It was a decade ago when the Virginia Tech shooting happened, claiming the lives of 32 people. As the nation comes together on Sunday to commemorate the victims and heroes on that fateful day, government and academic institutions alike are reflecting on what has changed ever since the tragic event took place.

A lot has changed. But for former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, if there’s one area that agencies have to continue working on, it should be implementing a “comprehensive” background record check system. The now senator commented that while the state has made great strides in improving mental health care and campus safety, it still fell short in terms of refining background check protocols.

“As I look back on it 10 years later, we made some advances in mental health. We made some advances in campus safety protocols. The one area where we haven’t made advances is a really comprehensive background record check system,” Kaine told

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine Interview
[Image by Jae C. Hong/AP Images] reported that the issue about background checks has been a “bitterly divisive issue” as Kaine’s colleagues in the U.S. senate believe that it doesn’t necessarily “eliminate the possibility of violence.” However, many supporters of establishing a more stringent background check system believe in its power to minimize the occurrence of incidents such as the Virginia Tech shooting.

“I still have a feeling of a huge amount of unfinished business,” said Kaine, who was overseas for an economic mission trip in Japan with business delegates from Virginia when the shooting incident took place. Kaine recounted the time as if it happened yesterday—he said his chief of staff woke him up at midnight to tell him about the Virginia Tech shooting and that the body count was going up. He flew back home right away.

The suspect, Virginia Tech senior Seung-Hui Cho, entered the school carrying two semi-automatic handguns and about 400 rounds of ammunition on April 16, 2007. According to USA Today, the shooting lasted for 10 minutes before Cho ended his life. Thirty-two people died while 17 people suffered injuries from the shooting.

Cho was mentally ill, and yet he was still able to obtain a gun. “Cho’s mental health status should have barred him from passing a background check to buy his guns,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told USA Today.

Virginia Tech Shooter Photograph
[Image by Amy Sancetta/AP Images]

Certain loopholes in the campus safety system at Virginia Tech led authorities and academic figures to miss red flags in connection with Cho’s state of mind. According to the report of the Virginia Tech review panel assembled by Kaine, the Care Team at the university “failed as a team” in finding out sufficient information about Cho and overlooking earlier reports of his mental instability and brushes with the law.

Apparently, the Care Team, which provides support to those who are dealing with mental health issues, was not informed of Cho’s stalking incidences, suicide attempts, and detention order at Saint Albans. The same can be said of reports about Cho’s behavior at his dorm.

In addition, agencies that are expected to be largely involved with members of the Care Team, such as the Virginia Tech Police Department, are only considered “second tier, nonpermanent members.” Lastly, the Care Team didn’t follow up on Cho’s progress, after the Judicial Affairs and the Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech dismissed his “macabre” writings as non-threatening, and their preliminary review that private tutoring “would solve the problem.”

An excerpt from the report reads as follows.

“The Care Team was hampered by overly strict interpretations of federal and state privacy laws (acknowledged as being overly complex), a decentralized corporate university structure, and the absence of someone on the team who was experienced in threat assessment and knew to investigate the situation more broadly, checking for collateral information that would help determine if this individual truly posed a risk or not.”

According to a Time article, Cho was said to have been motivated to commit the crime by a movie—Park Chan-Wook’s film Oldboy—like other suspects in mass shootings. The Columbine shooters were reported to have been influenced by The Matrix, while the suspects of the Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky were “triggered” by The Basketball Diaries.

Prior to the Virginia Tech shooting, Cho had taken a photo of himself holding a gun to his head, imitating the villain in Oldboy. However, Time columnist Richard Corliss, who wrote the piece, blamed the shooting on lax gun laws back then.

“If you’re looking for the villain behind Cho’s sadistic spree, consider what it has in common with every multiple-murder tragedy in recent U.S. history: the young man had easy access to a few of the 200 million guns available in this country, and used them to slaughter people who never did him harm.”

Former president George W. Bush signed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act within a year after the shooting. It aimed to address the information gap in relation to making mental health data easily accessible to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

[Featured Image by Steve Helber/AP Images]