It was on a humid August morning in 1966 when shots rang out from the stately University of Texas Tower in Austin.
Ninety-six minutes later, a 25-year-old ex-Marine named Charles Whitman had wounded 43 people — 13 of them fatally — after killing his wife and mother earlier that day. We didn’t know then what was going on in his mind. We just know that he had been suffering from headaches and depression and had been in the military. What we came to know in the days that followed was that he had turned an open campus at one of the nation’s largest universities into his personal shooting gallery. He was eventually gunned down, but the aftermath produced little national discussion over his motivations. His was not a crime of passion or robbery, but of apparent personal anguish. The only venting that drew anyone’s attention is the kind of last resort no one wants to experience or talk about.
As we fast forward to the events in West Lafayette last week that left one student dead and another in jail, we have to reflect on how far we have come in having that national discussion about gun violence in public places, particularly schools and universities. It is a paradox that even though these horrific shootings occur at campuses such as Texas, Virginia Tech and Purdue, there seems to be precious little that higher education in this country is doing to raise awareness of this alarming problem that touches elementary children in Newtown, Conn., and moviegoers in Aurora, Colo.
The adult thing to say to survivors is that life isn’t fair, but the adult thing to do for this country is to prevent more tragedies by having a deliberation that is not about gun control alone. It has to be about mental health and about keeping success and failure in perspective for everyone; to recognize stress and hardship as contributing factors to some of the worst things that happen in this country.