SJU panelists blame culture for shootings

By Alex Christodoulides

The university hosted a conference Monday and Tuesday about campus security and public safety, bringing in experts in the fields of law enforcement, psychology, the police department and university administrators.A man who asked the last question of the day Monday began by saying that 40 years ago he regularly brought a gun to school – without incident or outcry – as a member of the shooting team asked, “What's changed in 40 years? Is it our movies, the breakdown of the family?”The seven panelists represented two universities and the law enforcement field: Russ Federman, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Virginia; Robert McCreight, who retired from the United States State Department; Thomas Lawrence, vice president of public safety at St. John's; Robert McGuire, an attorney in private practice and former NYPD commissioner; Thomas Fargione, deputy director for response with the New York State Emergency Management Office; Gerard McEnerney, assistant vice president and executive director of St. John's University's Staten Island campus; and Robert Sica, of the New York Field Office of the U.S. Secret Service.”I hate to give such a simple answer, but our society's changed,” Federman answered.Fargione said that shootings like the one at Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed 32 faculty and students before committing suicide in April 2007, raise questions about the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms.”Over the past 40 years we've established a culture where there's availability of heavy weapons. Sometimes you see somebody who's amassed an arsenal,” Fargione said. “It brings up challenges to the Second Amendment. And as with many things in America, you're on one side or the other and nobody's willing to compromise.”McEnerney said one of the first things he did as an administrator at St. John's was close the campus shooting range, “not because I was worried about safety but because we were having a hard time meeting some of the Environmental Protection Agency standards for having an indoor shooting range.”McEnerney joined the school 10 years ago, before the 1999 Columbine shooting heightened nervousness about extreme violence in schools. “We're seeing a real sea change,” he said.McCreight brought the discussion back to the hypothetical gunman's right to the privacy of his medical records, especially in cases where there is suspicion or evidence of mental instability. Omesh Hiraman, the St. John's gunman, and Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho, were both treated for mental illness.”We're seeing a trade-off between the right to privacy and safety on campus. If we don't find a compromise, we're going to find some interesting situations,” he said.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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