By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
The reports were startling. Possible shots fired on the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman.
A member of OU’s faculty reported hearing what sounded like gunshots late Wednesday morning, and the campus quickly went into full lockdown.
Police responded immediately and the campus was quickly swarming with law enforcement and emergency personnel and vehicles.
Text alerts were sent out to faculty and students, who were advised to stay where they were and avoid Gould Hall, home of the OU school of architecture and from where the shots were believed to have come.
There were armed officers outside the building, which was surrounded by crime scene tape. There was no small amount of fear and anxiety, both for those on campus and for their loved ones back home.
Thankfully, the incident turned out to be a false alarm, the offending sounds apparently emanating from backfiring construction equipment rather than someone firing a weapon.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident there was criticism of the way OU officials reacted.
“I think it’s overkill,” 19-year-old sophomore Alex Owens told the Associated Press, indicating an armed policeman standing outside Gould Hall early Wednesday afternoon. “It just makes it seem like there is more going on.”
A story about the incident posted on a website called crossmap.com was headlined “University of Oklahoma is oversensitive about campus shooting: Machinery backfire as gunfire.”
The lockdown and investigation undoubtedly caused a great deal of consternation and upheaval on the OU campus, disrupting the daily routines of thousands of people and making it difficult for students and teachers to concentrate on the subject at hand.
“I haven’t been able to calm my class down,” adjunct math professor Gary Barksdale told the Associated Press. “I’m going to have a blast trying to teach limits of functions when everybody is concerned about this.”
A swift reaction? Certainly. But an overreaction? Is it even possible to overreact to a report of a possible school shooting in this day and age?
The names are all too familiar. Sandy Hook in 2012, Virginia Tech in 2007, Red Lake in 2005, Columbine in 1999, all the way back to 1966, when Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas Tower with three rifles, two pistols and a sawed-off shotgun and killed 16 people, wounding 32 others.
Of the 25 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, five, including the top two, happened on school campuses. And there have been many school shootings with lower body counts.
The faculty member who turned in the false alarm on the OU campus shooting likely feels somewhat sheepish in the wake of the incident.
He or she shouldn’t. What if they heard what they thought was a gunshot and didn’t sound the alarm, and the threat turned out to be real?
In the wake of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, which left 32 victims and the gunman dead, the school was criticized for not responding quickly and decisively enough after the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, shot two people in a dorm before moving on to claim the bulk of his victims in a classroom building.
A school’s first mission is to educate, but officials also are charged with protecting students and faculty members.
OU’s leaders would have been sorely remiss had they not immediately issued the alarm when they were alerted about the possible gunfire, despite the fact it was unconfirmed.
These days it behooves everyone to be vigilant when in a public place such as a school, a shopping center, an office building or a factory.
There are many troubled and troubling people out there, all with Constitutionally-guaranteed ready access to firearms.
As the Department of Homeland Security is wont to say, if you hear something, if you see something, say something.
Better to sound what turns out to be a false alarm and feel foolish for a while than to remain silent and feel guilt and remorse for a lifetime.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.