Soon after the tragedy, a group of family members and survivors embraced this selfless mission.
They approached then-Governor Tim Kaine to seek a change in Virginia law that had allowed the shooter to buy his guns legally. A formal determination had been made by the Commonwealth that the shooter had been a danger to himself. His name was not submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) because he was required to seek outpatient rather than inpatient treatment.
Ultimately, working with Governor Kaine, the General Assembly, and interest groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Brady Campaign, legislation was passed to ensure that an involuntary commitment to outpatient treatment would be grounds for inclusion in NICS.
Then, the Virginia Tech group continued to work with the NRA and the Brady Campaign, with the additional support of Virginia’s U.S. Senators, to pass federal legislation that provided grant funds for other states willing to follow Virginia’s lead on this issue. This was the original Fix NICS Act. It was needed because the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to require states to submit the names of people legally prohibited from buying a gun to the federal government.
Early in 2018, with VTV’s support and urging, a bipartisan revision and improvement of the Fix NICS Act was passed. It was spurred by the mass shooting tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas that took 26 lives.
“The law, sponsored by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, requires federal agencies to improve their reporting standards and encourage states to follow suit.
Federal agencies would be required to submit detailed action plans to the attorney general’s office, showing how they intend to upload all records on people prohibited from buying guns into the NICS database. The plans would include specific quantitative goals and timelines for compliance.
The attorney general would report the number or records, broken down by category, which each federal agency had reported. Political appointees at agencies that did not comply would not be given annual bonuses.
States and federal agencies would be called out publicly if they failed to meet the goals they had set. They would also be given technical support as they work to build better reporting systems.
The legislation would also make $125 million available to states each year from 2018 to 2022 to improve verification of criminal records and report them to the FBI. Priority would be given to states that show they have a detailed plan for implementing better practices for record reporting.
Experts agree that the Fix NICS Act would add welcome resources and accountability to a complex and cloudy gun background check system.” — TheTrace.org.
Amending the Clery Act
In one of VTV’s earliest impacts, families banded together in 2008 and told Congress to amend the Clery Act because “these warnings must be issued as soon as possible”. As a result of their influence and others, HEOA included amendments to the Clery Act to require campuses to issue immediate notifications about any emergency situation that is a threat to the health or safety of students and employees.
Among other updates, HEOA also requires state universities to know their emergency management plans, conduct exercise drills every year, have an emergency notification system in place, and use it in a timely manner. HEOA also provided for a matching grant program so colleges and universities could fund safety and security improvement initiatives. There is also a provision for mental health services for students and staff so they can be coordinated with appropriate local entities. The HEOA bill was signed into law on August 14, 2008 by President Bush, reauthorizing the amended version of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965.
Laws Passed to Make College Campuses Safer
Between 2010 -2015, both VTV and its sister organization, Angel Fund, successfully advanced legislation in Virginia that has made our college campuses safer.
2015 – SB 1122 requires each public institution of higher education’s policies that advise students, faculty, and staff of the proper procedures for identifying and addressing the needs of students exhibiting suicidal tendencies or behavior to require procedures for notifying the institution’s student health or counseling center when a student exhibits suicidal tendencies or behavior.
2014 – SB 239 requires the violence prevention committee of each public institution of higher education to establish policies and procedures that outline circumstances under which all faculty and staff are to report threatening or aberrant behavior that may represent a physical threat to the community. The bill also requires each violence prevention committee to include notification of family members or guardians, or both, as a sufficient means of action in the committee’s policies and procedures for the assessment of individuals whose behavior may present a physical threat, unless such notification would prove harmful to the individual in question.
2013 – SB 1078 requires the State Board for Community Colleges to develop a mental health referral policy that would require community colleges to designate at least one individual at each college to serve as a point of contact with an emergency services system clinician at a local community services board, or another qualified mental health services provider, for screenings and referrals of students who may have emergency or urgent mental health needs.
2010 – This legislation requires the president and vice-president of each public institution of higher education, or the superintendent in the case of the Virginia Military Institute, to annually certify in writing to the Department of Emergency Management comprehension and understanding of the institution’s crisis and emergency management plan. The bill also provides that each public institution of higher education shall annually conduct a functional exercise in accordance with the protocols established by the institution’s crisis and emergency management