In 2017, a University of Utah student was shot and killed on campus. The victim was a foreign national. The killer was caught, tried and convicted. We heard and read about the killing, the trial and the conviction.

A year later – October 2018 – another student was shot and killed on campus. The victim was a young woman from out of state. The killer took his own life the same night. We continue to hear and read about the killing. The Salt Lake Tribune – supposedly short-staffed – repeated the story at length for a year, no doubt because the story generates more reader interest than does other news.

Eight months after the second killing, a third horrific killing of a university student took place – this time off campus. An individual has been charged with the killing, and we will hear and read about the trial whenever the wheels of justice grind to a conclusion.

Some blame human beings at the university for making mistakes surrounding the second murder – with some justification. But we will never know whether these sensational accusations would have been as pervasive if the killer had been apprehended, tried and convicted.

There is plenty of blame to go around for all three murders. Blame belongs to Congress, state legislatures, religious organizations, education and every one of us, so long as we allow the decision-makers of society to literally “get away with murder.”

  1. Congress and state legislatures continue to permit, even encourage, anyone with a grudge to buy, steal or borrow a gun — even though a majority of citizens would like additional controls on death-dealing weapons. Still, no one sues Congress, or state legislators, or the National Rifle Association for “buying” state legislatures and misleading gullible voters who get their jollies from the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic weapons.
  2. State lawmakers continue to short-change programs dealing with mental health issues and efforts to reduce mental health problems, including addiction disease. Newspapers and news broadcasts provide too few stories about legislative neglect of these pervasive problems.
  3. Legislative neglect also penalizes the criminal justice system. Parole is a vital part of rehabilitation efforts, but parole doesn’t work when lawmakers refuse to provide adequate financial support for courts and parole officers. Volunteer lobbyists try to keep the issue on the minds of legislators and citizens, but they are not able to shower money on election campaigns.
  4. Education should focus as much on teaching the importance of interpersonal relationships as it does on teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A rewarding life depends on meaningful relationships. Casual, short-term ‘hook-ups” are too often deceptive substitutes for such relationships.
  5. Religion bears responsibility, too. It is an important source of moral training. But reaching thoughtful young people is not possible when religious teachings run counter to science, common sense and reality. Morality and truth are certainly compatible, but sometimes what was thought to be true yesterday proves to be less definitive today. And social activities of religious organizations are at least as important as spiritual activities.
  6. Congress has allowed telephonic communication to deteriorate. Today, most calls are not only ignored but deserve to be ignored. All of us, including law enforcement personnel, are conditioned to be skeptical when the phone rings. We would pay more attention if Congress had the wisdom to control or eliminate nuisance calls from so-called “robots” and other unwanted sources. Similar annoying and unnecessary abuses take place on the internet.
  7. Every one of us shares the blame for sustaining a society characterized by anger, violence, racism, sexism and class discrimination.

It’s easy to blame the university — any university — for campus deaths. But solutions will not be found on campus. Solutions will require understanding, commitment and action by every member of society, especially those in positions of leadership.

Don Gale

Don Gale, Ph.D., first came to campus as a high school dropout in 1950. A single campus cop named Gil Farnsworth was the only law enforcement needed. Campus population went up. Societal responsibility went down.