19.4.07

Thoughts on Va Tech

I was going to write a post giving my thoughts on the Virginia Tech shootings. I had it all written up and ready to post, but I held off. I had seen all the knee-jerk reactions flying around by everyone else, and so I kept mine to myself.

And then, some other writers published what I was going to say. Since they beat me to it, I'll just link to them here - TIME- Don't rush to judgments, Washington Post- A Moment of Silence. Here is a video version by a "ranting swearing bastard". Following is my original post, nearly unedited. I apologize for the rather long post. As a college student, this incident has bothered me somewhat. It is interesting that we don't react the same way when we read the news of what is going on around the world, although this type of massacre is almost commonplace in some parts. That's a valid point, but it is a discussion for another time.

The need to blame someone following something like this is understandable, but it is way too early at this point to blame anyone other than the shooter (who has now been identified). Yes, it was possible for the police to have put the entire university on lockdown after the first shooting, but should they have? Double homicides, perhaps resulting from a domestic dispute, are not that unusual. Typically, the shooter leaves. Could the university sent out mass emails, put a post on all university home pages, sent out news flashes, stating that a murder took place and the killer is still on the loose? That probably should have been done. Some were quick to blame violent video games, even before the shooter had been identified. It appears they were completely unfounded, although they would have been wrong no matter what.

Perhaps the worst I’ve come across so far have been those who have blamed the victims themselves. Those who say the students in the classroom should have tried to take down the shooter, and were cowards not to have. 5 or 6 guys can take down one guy with a gun, right? Of course, at least one of them is going to get shot and probably killed in the process. Some have brought up the pack/herd debate. In a situation like this, the response is going to be to duck/run. Just try to stay alive. Given the choice, most people will take a possible future death over a likely immediate death. (There were enough Jews in Auschwitz, they could have overwhelmed the guards, right?) If you want to call that cowardice, fine. But it’s what I would probably do. Imagining that if you were there, you would have charged the shooter, risking your life to save others, is a great fantasy. But unless you’ve ever actually been in a situation like that, it’s just a fantasy, and there is no way to know how you would react. For all we know now, a half dozen guys might have tried to take the shooter down, and gotten killed in the process. We don’t know. And whatever happened, not only is it inaccurate, not to mention distasteful, it is completely unnecessary to blame those who were shot, or had to watch their classmates get shot.

It is inevitable that a situation like this will spark debates about safety at schools and colleges, and about gun control. It is unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to break us out of our complacency. However, this one incident should not be used to shape policy. I am almost certain that neither stricter gun control nor CCW laws would have prevented this. This was one isolated incident, completely unlike almost every other violent crime.

Would concealed carry have prevented the Va Tech shooting? Impossible to prove. How many students would have brought their guns with them to their 9 am class? How many of those would have reacted any different? Might extending concealed carry to all college campuses result in 30+ people being killed over a 10 or so year period through mishaps and drunken altercations? Certainly possible.

Would tougher gun control laws prevented Cho from buying his handguns? Probably. Would they have forced him into buying illegal automatic rifles? Possible. More likely, he would have gotten bomb instructions off the Internet (I assume they are there, I've never checked myself).

The debate on gun control is not going to be solved anytime soon. I'd rather keep the focus on effective ways to respond to the rare emergency. Cell alerts, emails, warning sirens, won't hurt. Some people actually do turn their cell phones off during class, so I'll pitch the idea of some sort of digital signs spread throughout campus to give news in emergencies. The main problem, though seems to be the time it takes to evaluate threats.

Guns don't kill people. People found ways to kill long before guns were around. Guns are a tool to make killing easier. That said, I don’t like the idea of solving gun violence by throwing more guns at it. I do think everyone should have a right to protect themselves. Firearms aren’t the only way to do so. I see no reason we can’t just use non-lethal weapons. Equip everyone with an air tazer. Give every teacher a gun with rubber bullets. Install vomit rays in every classroom and run tear gas through the sprinklers. There would be a slightly less chance of someone overreacting and killing someone unnecessarily. I even think people would be more likely to use non-lethal weapons, knowing that it wouldn’t kill the person they were trying to stop.

The bottom line is this. Every time you are in a public place, you are not safe. The only way a free society such as ours can operate is if people are given freedom and trusted not to abuse it. It would be incredibly easy to go into any building on campus tomorrow and kill much more than 30 people. Guns would be the most efficient weapon, but it could be done with others. Heck, you could probably get quite a few with your car driving around campus. The opportunity to kill others is always there. Shootings like this and worse could happen every single day, but they don't. Cho Seung-Hui was an aberration. Thankfully, whatever breakdown in reasoning caused the shootings at Virginia Tech, it is a rare enough occurrence that it shocks us.

I am also disappointed by the coverage given to Cho and his videos he made. NBC has shown them, others have posted them; I will not link to them here. I see no good reason to glorify a mass murderer, or to fulfill his wishes. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist and ABC News consultant, explains why we shouldn't watch it better than I could. It is understandable that our society has a fascination with murderers. Cho is destined to make the list of the most famous ones. Personally, I'd rather just accept that he had some problems and move on.

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