updated 5/2/2007 7:54:12 PM ET 2007-05-02T23:54:12

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday that having more guns on college campuses is not the way to prevent campus violence like the massacre at Virginia Tech.

Since the April 16 shootings that left 33 people dead, including the gunman, at Virginia Tech, some have suggested that the carnage might have been lower if a student or professor with a gun had stepped in.

“I don’t think that is the answer quite frankly,” said Gonzales, who was participating in a governor’s task force to study safety and security on Oklahoma college campuses.

Instead, authorities should enforce existing laws concerning the ownership and use of handguns, he said.

“We can’t guarantee complete security,” Gonzales said. “We need to see what we can do as a government — on the federal level, on the state level — to ensure the safety of our students.”

He said the government also needs to work closely to make campuses safe while still respecting individual freedoms and privacy.

“In a society where we really value individual freedom and respect privacy we’re also concerned about public safety,” Gonzales said.

The task force, which included discussions among law enforcement, mental health and higher education officials, focused on getting and sharing information about possible campus risks and how to respond to a campus attack.

“Is there additional information that we need with respect to individuals who may pose a threat to society?” Gonzales said.

New mental health gun law
In response to the shootings, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signed an executive order requiring that anyone ordered by a court to get mental health treatment be added to a state police database of people barred from buying guns.

The Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, had been judged a danger to himself by a court in 2005. But he was not added to the database because he was not committed to a hospital, instead he was ordered to get outpatient mental-health treatment.

Gonzales said authorities should know whether a mentally ill student may be prone to violence but their privacy rights should also be protected to avoid discouraging them from seeking treatment.

“We know that treatment is very, very effective,” he said.

Federal officials must work closely with states to prevent and respond to threats, Gonzales said. “They know best what the problems are, and they know best what the solutions are,” he said.

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