Soap Box:  Virginia Tech Massacre

April 18, 2007

On the Monday morning of April 16, 2007 , an evil person and student by the name of Cho Seung-Hui, killed at least 32 people at Virginia Tech University , in Blacksburg , Virginia .  The killing only ended when he took his own life.  Just the day before I had been about 15 miles from the school attending a soccer tournament.  The killer used a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, a Glock 19, during his carnage.  He had locked several doors with chains from the inside, either to prevent people from escaping, or to delay the police in responding.  Most of the dead were in the engineering building, Norris Hall.  However, the killing had started over two hours earlier with the killing of two people in Ambler Johnston dormitory.  This tragedy is the worse mass shooting in modern American history.  And itís going to evoke a firestorm of discussion and criticism, ranging from gun control to what officials could have done.  Some of this discussion will be an attempt to prevent future attacks while some will be to access blame.  And of course greedy lawyers will be circling and representing families that wish to make money off the deaths of the victims.

Letís first address the actions of the university, the police, and campus security given thatís where the initial blame is going to be directed, and where the slimy lawyers are going to target their lawsuits in order to pad their pocketbooks.  At this time it appears that Seung-Hui was responsible for both shootings, at the dormitory and the engineering building.  Given that more than two hours elapsed between the shootings, people are wondering why the university didnít alert students or lock down the school.

First of all, police/security thought the scene of the first shooting was contained.  It was either a murder-suicide, or the shooter had fled the campus.  There was no reason to believe that the shooter was still on campus, hence their reasoning for not locking down the school.  But one must ask, how can you lock down such a large campus, that has tens of thousands of students.  Universities are not like small public schools.  They are like cities, with many buildings, and many roads, and lots of people coming and going.  Itís a community in and of itself, so it would be hard to lock it down, if it could even be done.  Secondly, if the university actually thought students should be notified, how would that be done?  Email?  Text message?  Not everyone checks their email constantly, not everyone has a cell phone, and even those that do, thereís no guarantee they use text messaging features.  The best method would probably be some type of public address system, or sirens.  Again, at the time the university had no reason to think a shooter was on campus.

Secondly, could the police have stopped the shooter sooner?  We have seen some cell phone video where you can hear quite a few shots being fired.  At this time, we donít know if they are from the shooter, from the police, or an exchange of gunfire.  Iím assuming it was all the shooter since we havenít heard any stories of the police shooting at Seung-Hui.  But police were on the scene, so what were they doing?  Let me state at this time that I consider the police on duty at the Columbine School shooting in Colorado , in 1999, to be nothing short of cowards.  There was ARMED security at the school during the shooting.  Plus, after the shootings, the police still remained outside while people bled to death.  They were cowards in my opinion, plain and simple.  If you are not brave enough to seek out and stop a criminal, especially if you are not under direct fire, you should not put on a law enforcement badge.  Anyone can wait outside, behind a tree or car until it is safe.  I was disgusted by what I saw as the lack of courage of the security in Columbine.  So, was there cowardice at Virginia Tech?  It almost appears so from that blurry video, especially if the shoots being fired were all from Seung-Hui.  But since Seung-Hui locked the doors, we should not rush to judgment on this one.  If they were trying to get into the building, but couldnít, then we canít hold the delay against them.  At this point, because of the locked doors, Iím going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

As more and more information comes out, we here that Seung-Hui displayed all the signs of someone capable of snapping and committing mass murder.  He was a loner.  His writings were dark.  He had anger problems.  He stalked women.  His fellow students were suspicious about him. His teachers were suspicious about him.  So why wasnít anything done?  Well to be quite honest, other than the stalking, nothing else was against the law.  And his dark writings are the hallmark of some of our more successful horror writers.  So just because someone is strange and scary, that doesnít mean you can automatically take them out of society.  But I do think we need to educate the public on recognizing the tell-tale signs that someone may be a future problem, and what can be done to address those problems, like some kind of preventive counseling.

The biggest issue I see coming down the road is that gun control will now be discussed on just about every talk show and will become talking points for politicians.  But letís examine what kind of gun control could have prevented this, or maybe lessened the carnage.  Seung-Hui was a permanent legal resident of the United States , but he was not a citizen.  And, he bought his firearm legally.  My first reaction to this was dismay and anger.  How can a non-citizen legally buy a handgun?  Personally, I think only a U.S. citizen should be allowed to purchase a firearm.  But after thinking about the matter some more, I realized that it would not have prevented this crime.  Seung-Hui could easily have obtained his citizenship.  Barring that, guns are easy to come by in this country.  I think the current laws of forbidding criminals from legally buying guns is about all we can do on that front.  Maybe adding some kind of psychological test would also help out, to make sure gun owners arenít on the edge.

Some call for the banning of guns all together, or strictly limiting who can purchase them.  That just isnít going to work in the United States of America .  Our Constitution provides for a means for the citizens to be armed.  And firearms are in our culture and history.  Because we have taken up arms, the world is safer.  Letís face it, the US is the policemen of the world, and part of that is due to our gun culture.  Guns are just too prevalent and abundant in our society.  If guns are banned, then only law abiding citizens will be disarmed.  As we have seen, criminals donít care about the law.  Thereís already a law against having guns on school grounds and Seung-Hui didnít care about that.  Thereís laws against assault and murder, and Seung-Hui didnít care about those either.  And the criminal element can always get a gun, legally or illegally, so banning firearms or severely restricting them will not stop this sort of violence.

Ironically, having guns more readily available would probably help deter, and lessen the impact of mass shootings.  Almost every mass shooting ends in one of two ways.  Either the gunman tries to flee the scene, or the gunman is killed by a gun (by his own hand or the police).  In almost all cases of where the gunman was stopped, it was done by the use of a gun.  Letís face it, if youíre in a gunfight, you need to have a gun.  Allowing guns on school grounds would save lives.  As long as a teacher or professor is properly trained, and keeps their firearm secure, I think it should be okay to have them on a school campus.  In every mass shooting weíve had, if someone would have had a gun, they probably could have stopped the killing sooner, and saved some lives.  Take the previous most deadliest shooting for example.  In 1991, George Hennard plowed his truck into Lubyís Cafeteria, in Killeen , Texas .  He got out and shot 23 people to death before taking his own life.  Texas has a western image of gun owners.  In Texas you can even use deadly force to protect property.  So why didnít anyone have a gun on them?  Well the law didnít allow concealed carry so people left their firearms in their cars.  Suzanna Gratia Hupp owned a gun, and was at the restaurant with her parents.  But her gun was in her car in compliance with the current law, so she was unable to save her parents or anyone else that day.

My own state of North Carolina has a concealed carry law for handguns, and Iím glad because of it.  Yet it has some crippling limitations.  You canít carry a weapon in some restaurants.  You canít carry a weapon in some shopping malls, and there have been mass shootings in malls.  A criminal is not going to follow the gun laws, so why are innocent citizens limited in how they can protect themselves?  The obvious observation is that the most effective weapon against a criminal with a gun, is another gun.

The bottom line is that firearms are in our society to stay, whether they are legally owned by the citizens, or illegally obtained by the criminals.  Bad people are going to be doing bad things with guns.  The most effective stance against this violence is for citizens to be armed.  Iím not saying that everyone needs to go out and buy a gun, and carry it wherever you go.  But I think we should allow those that are responsible enough to own firearms, possess them and carry them wherever they go.  That means the chances of someone being armed in a crowd is much higher, which means that if a bad person does show up, thereís a greater chance that he can be stopped sooner rather than later.  Those screaming for gun control and the banning of guns needs to realize that the criminal element does not follow the law.  If that were the case, our police officers would not carry firearms.  Allow law abiding citizens the means to protect themselves.  While it may not stop future tragedies from happening, it may have an effect on the severity of them.

Jeff Polston

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