Not that the Gresham area needed any further reinforcement of the need for school safety, but the horror that unraveled at Virginia Tech this week only underscores the dangers posed by unstable young people who have easy access to firearms.

The Virginia Tech massacre - the worst school attack in the nation's history - came less than a week after a student at Gresham's Springwater Trail High School fired shots through two windows - injuring 10.

An unsettling aspect of both shootings was the ease with which these two young people obtained their weapons. The Gresham boy allegedly was using a gun taken from a relative, and the Virginia Tech killer shot his victims with two guns - one of them a Glock 9 mm semi-automatic, rapid-fire pistol that is available only to police in most other countries.

The mere mention of stricter gun laws in the United States always sets off a highly polarized, emotional debate. It's unfortunate that the nation cannot have a more reasoned discussion about laws that might serve to limit access while still preserving the rights of hunters and others who are responsible gun owners.

There will always be depressed or mentally ill young people who lash out at classmates and teachers. But if they don't have guns - especially the highly destructive type used at Virginia Tech - they are much less likely to cause serious damage.

These two shootings, coming in such a short timeframe, also raise the troubling issue of publicity and whether that contributes to additional incidents. Indeed, following the massive coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, school and law enforcement officials throughout the country reported a wave of copycat threats late this week.

Locally, the Gresham shooting is still fresh on many residents' minds, even as they are thankful that it didn't approach the scale of Virginia Tech. For whatever reasons, the spring season seems to pose a particular risk for schools - Friday, for example, was the eighth anniversary of Columbine, while the Thurston High School shootings occurred nine years ago in May.

This is the time, therefore, for students, teachers, parents and administrators to be on the highest alert for suspicious behavior. As the Virginia Tech shootings so tragically remind us, it's better to act assertively in response to warning signs from disturbed individuals than to be left wondering later whether something more could have been done.

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