I’d like to start by saying I join the millions of Americans in shock at the VA Tech tragedy. What I will not join millions of Americans in, is a witch hunt. Every time a shooting takes place in the US, the media picks a scapegoat. Violence in video games, violence in movies, and violence on TV, rap music, parenting, and school officials…the list goes on and on. Somehow, one thing never seems to make that list.
Why, in the midst of overwhelming evidence of extreme psychological disorder, are the shooters themselves ignored? So often the shooters are lumped in with the victims. We should not be asking “why didn’t the school administration see this coming, why didn’t they help this poor boy?” These questions seem humane, seem justified, but are wholly useless. The school administration can not possibly screen every student, every teacher, every person allowed on school campus for mental illness. Many campuses still have 30:1 student to teacher ratios, are we now going to try for 30:1 students to psychologists? No. The fact is that millions of Americans already receive counseling on some level, but a success story is never heard because no one can predict the outcome had that troubled person not sought counseling.
If we could not identify the shooter in time to prevent this, do we focus on the weapons he used? Many articles describe the shooter as “heavily armed,” when in actuality he had two small, legal hand guns. Gun control laws have yet to finish banning far more dangerous weapons, and it is fool hardy to believe that even if these weapons had been banned that a man on a mission would not find another, equally deadly means to accomplish his goal. By all means, let’s get the assault rifles, automatic shotguns, and compact submachine guns off the streets, but remember the laws will do nothing to deter someone dedicated to his “mission”.
Do we focus on security? Install metal detectors at every entrance? Place armed guards through out our schools? Cameras, scanners, trackers, guards and gates serve only to increase the fear in the student populace. Cameras and other such monitoring devices will serve no purpose in the event of another shooting, other than to identify the shooter. We can all agree that by the time this footage is reviewed, the incident has already come to a tragic end. Security guards sound ideal, until you consider that this means the guns are already on campus. Now instead of one or two shooters, you add under-trained, panicked, and let’s not forget, armed individuals more likely to hit fleeing students and faculty than their intended targets. In a nation where we can not afford to pay our teachers a decent wage, I can not imagine we will pay for the kind of training guards would need in this situation. No, the only armed people in these schools should be responding police officers, not security guards facing a once-in-a-lifetime situation.
In the VA Tech situation, faculty members have been criticized for not informing the students earlier. They say hindsight is always 20/20; maybe telling student to stay out of class would have prevented some deaths. Certainly not all, the killer was still on campus! Maybe all that would have changed would have been the location of the second shooting. In actuality the faculty acted exactly how they should have done. They listened to the advice of the police, they minimized panic over what they were told was an isolated incident, and the entire campus was informed. Should it have taken two hours to warn the campus? In many regards I am surprised that the email was sent in only two hours. The fact that the bureaucracy embraced by this country was satisfied so quickly gives me hope for the future. Remember, it often takes longer then 48 hours for a soldier’s loved ones to be informed in the event of a death, and the army has detailed paperwork to speed that process along.
The only criticism I have is that email was the chosen method of dissemination when class had already started. An announcement over loud speakers, or read to each class by the professor would have ensured that everyone knew about the incident. What it would not have done was in any way lessen the casualties. The warning indicated an isolated incident has occurred and that students should keep an eye out for suspicious activity. The warning would not have prompted everyone on campus to barricade the doors and windows immediately. Students most probably wouldn’t even have left the classroom unless personally involved with the original victims.
It is my opinion that the only methods that can be taken in this situation are simple. Schools should be designed with methods to escape each classroom, such as a simple fire escape. Teachers should be able to lock their doors from the inside, preventing a shooter in the hall from easily moving from room to room. The local police and swat forces should have detailed response plans for each campus, mall, or large public gathering. These response plans should be practiced, much like a simple fire drill. Police will gain knowledge of the layout of each school, instead of reading blue prints a few minutes before entering the school for the first time. While the show of force is unlikely to dissuade a shooter, it will let everyone know that help is on the way.
Students should be aware that while an attack is not likely, it is possible, and there are steps to follow. We climbed under our desks during the Cuban Missile Crisis; we can develop far more useful means of getting out of the line of fire. Put doors and walls between you and the attacker, and if you can’t lock it, barricade it. Do not attempt to hide, keep moving and get out of the area. Do not try and be a hero, you will get yourself and others hurt.
I will finish by saying this is a time for mourning. Let’s not play the blame game yet again.