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All the Wrong Things

By Brian | April 18, 2007 | Share on Facebook

Like everyone else, I’ve been listening to and reading about the horrible events that took place at Virginia Tech yesterday.

While this was the most deadly, it was not, unfortunately, the first of it’s kind. This time around, though, the discussion of what happened and how it could have been prevented/mitigated seems to be focused on a strange mix of topics.

One discussion thread is the two-hour delay between the first shooting and the e-mail notifying students about it. There seems to be an implication here that the University’s primary role in this situation is communication, not security – as if the students would have been perfectly capable of defending themselves, had they only known sooner that there was a shooter on the loose. Personally, I’d have been happy if they had secured the campus and not informed anybody, as opposed to the other way around.

Another discussion I’ve seen floating around is about VT’s “open campus,” and whether the ability to walk freely into and out of buildings without metal detectors, ID cards, etc. is worth enduring the occasional tragedy:

It is very difficult, because we are an open society and an open campus. We have 26,000 people here. The best thing that we can do is to have people report anything that they saw that was suspicious. We obviously cannot have an armed guard in front of every classroom every day of the year. What we try to determine is are they kept out of harm’s way by staying in the dorms or staying in the academic buildings. We send out communications by e-mail, we have an emergency alert system to get the word to our students as quickly as we can.

- Charles Steger
Virginia Tech University President

You’ll excuse me, but this is bullcrap. An open campus is great on a normal day. But the instant a shooting occurs on campus, police should be on the scene and the building in question should be sealed (which, apparently, was done in this case). As soon as it was determined that the killer might still be on the loose, all other campus buildings should have armed guards posted, and anyone entering/exiting those buildings should be at least observed, if noy searched. Taking this step does not destroy a free society or “let the terrorists win.”. It is a logical, temporary step to secure the campus and protect the students. When they’re sure they’ve got the guy, the precious freedom to enter a building unobserved can be immediately restored.

The third predominant topic I’ve been reading about is gun control, and generally in the vein of “had the students been allowed to carry guns, one of them could have taken out the shooter before he killed so many people.”. I realize there’s a wide spectrum of political opinion on both sides of this issue. Without offerring an opinion of my own, I’ll just note that this discussion is, at best, incomplete without mention of the other shootings (accidental or otherwise) that would result from a proliferation of firearms on campus.

Remember, we’re talking about a college campus. Good people do stupid things on college campuses, like drink excessively, for example. Also, many students experience a great deal of stress (around exam time, for instance) and don’t always know how to deal with that stress properly. Others, like the shooter in this case, have serious medical problems and do not have the support system in place to treat it properly. Any proper discussion about gun laws needs to take this into account in order to be useful in any way.

Sadly, nothing can be done to bring back those who were killed. My fear in this case is that the resulting discussion isn’t doing enough to prevent another such occurrence, because we’re discussing all the wrong things.

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