Monday, April 16, 2007

(Nearly) Speechless.

By now, I imagine everyone reading this will have heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech, perhaps ad nauseam, as I'm sure CNN and such are giving nonstop coverage. J & I stayed away from the news channels tonight, opting instead for the 1974 Benji movie.

My cousin Blake is fine, although we don't know if he had any friends among the shooting victims; likewise my friend Jennifer's son and Claire's friends. Given Tech's proximity to Lynchburg and the number of kids who go to Tech from Lynchburg, Nelson County, and Charlottesville, it's altogether likely that someone I know lost a friend or a relative.

But that's not the only question here. I'm not the first to ask these, but they're worth asking ceaselessly and polyvocally.

First, how did the shooter get the gun? Or rather, we all know how he may have gotten the gun--he could very easily have walked into a gun shop in Virginia and bought the damn thing. Why is that possible? Why did he choose a shooting spree to express his anger, pain, frustration, or whatever emotions he needed to vent?

And why are college (and high school) campuses becoming places where angry gunmen regularly kill students and staff? Because it is a regular occurrence now.

Plenty will (and probably already are) blaming the gunman's youth, video games, heavy metal or rap music, violence on television, and all those usual things, and I'm sure Jerry Falwell is having a field day from his perch up there on Liberty Mountain, a mere two hours away. Y'all know I don't have any time for violence on film, and yes, in my mind violence on film is doing no good--but how about our government's own disregard for innocent Iraqis, sketchily charged detainees at Guantanamo, and immigrants within our own borders? There's a whole political rant to be had here, and I'll leave that to those with more details than I have--but I have two words: "preemptive strike."

In days to come, we'll hear plenty of words being shoved around like cold peas on a plate, mine among them. In the meantime, academia and the public sphere have a lot to think about--and I don't mean state-of-the-art metal detectors and security guards at every entrance.

P. S.
I know I'm going to get a lot of Google hits about this in the next few days. Spare me the hate mail about my politics, please. Nobody needs that right now, and I'll just delete it.


An Briosca Mor said...

I lived in Ambler Johnston dorm for four years when I was at Tech (although I was in East AJ, not West AJ where the shootings started because when I was there West AJ was a women's dorm) and I had most of my classes in Norris Hall. Even had an "office" there for a while when I was a graduate teaching assistant. (Actually, it was a shared desk in a grad student room, but IIRC I actually did have to sit there every so often for "office hours" so students could complain about how I took a half point off on their homework grade that didn't even count anyway. But I digress...) So hearing all this news has been a very disconcerting experience for me, to say the least. But it was thirty years ago when I was there, when Tech was a sleepy cow college and Blacksburg was a small town. The last time I was there was five or six years ago, and while some obvious growth had occurred, in reality it seemed that not all that much had changed - especially in comparison with more urban campuses that I've spent some time on more recently (like GW where I took grad classes years ago, or BC where I stayed on campus for Gaelic Roots), where security is a very obvious concern. I'm afraid things will never be the same now at Virginia Tech. This will be tough to recover from.

But you know, I live and work now within a few miles of the national headquarters of the NRA, and for some reason that doesn't make me feel any more safe than I felt in the cocoon of Blacksburg three decades ago. That's probably because although it's true that guns don't kill people, wackos with guns kill people, wackos WITHOUT guns would kill a lot fewer people.

The 'defense of my home and family' argument that the gun nuts keep using to justify their need for personal assault weapons just doesn't hold water. When do we EVER hear a story about some gun owner laying waste to an intruder in their home? Of course, the gun nuts will counter by saying "Well, if X person that got broken into had had a gun, then they could have defended theirself against the intruder, so therefore gun ownership is a good thing." But if you turn that logic around by saying "Well, if X mass murderer had not had easy access to firearms they wouldn't have killed so many people, therefore gun ownership is NOT a good thing" they tell you you're crazy, or un-American, or you're aiding the terrorists.

I remember years ago when Virginia passed the law limiting gun purchases to one gun a month per person, which the NRA fought tooth and nail. I was driving Frank Harte back from Elkins and we were talking about that, and he said incredulously "Who in the hell needs one gun a month anyway?"

Rob said...

Surely the number of evil burglars and rapists gunned down by righteous God-fearing heat-packing Amurricans in their homes is insignificant compared to the number of innocent people killed by wackos, gangsters, and people who are just too emotionally overwrought to think clearly at the moment. It doesn't take a genius to see that with fewer guns, there would be fewer shooting deaths.

Do you all remember the scene in "Bowling for Columbine" where Michael Moore gets a free gun for opening a bank account? What a totally insane culture we have.

I'm sure our Wise and Just Leaders will react with their usual mix of fear and punativeness. Increase security on all college campuses and look out for Asians in gun shops. And find somebody to punish.

T said...

Obviously I agree with you both. Needless to say, heightened security will not help as long as emotional expression through firearms is a 'done thing'--which, as Tech, Columbine, post office shootings, etc. have established as a reality of modern American life. But the government, college administrations, etc. will of course fight fire with fire, and turn college campuses into police states, insofar as they're able.

We have security guards and controlled access for nearly every building at NYU, and yet it would be easy as pie to get in with a gun and lay waste to any number of high-volume classrooms. All you'd need would be a student ID--or in some buildings, if you weren't planning to leave, you'd just need to sign in with a plausible excuse.

Add to that the high volume of students entering and leaving buildings during "rush hours" (yes, we do have those at NYU in the larger buildings, where you might need to queue up to get into the building in the first place). Imagine: every time you go to class you must go through airport-like security. What kind of learning environment is that?

Yet I think that's what we'll start seeing, rather than the obvious solution of stricter gun control laws. Because it's worth more to the people who govern this country that non-white poor people kill each other in the ghettoes than preventing those deaths along with the occasional "accident" of middle class white kids getting killed while trying to go to school.

That's not very well-said, but I'll leave it there for the moment.

An Briosca Mor said...

I saw a comment on some on-line forum today from some pro-gun person who raised as an example the much smaller scale shooting that occurred at Appalachian State University a few years ago. Apparently in that situation further violence was prevented by some innocent bystander with a gun who was able to hold the intruder at bay. This commenter was saying that it would have been good if a similar thing could have happened at Tech yesterday. But buried in the story about ASU was the fact that the gun-owner in that incident was a former law-enforcement officer who had to go out to his car to retrieve his gun when the incident transpired. This is a big difference from every Joe Blow just packing heat to protect himself, but the gun lobby cannot recognize that not-even-subtle distinction. What is wrong with making it difficult for the average person to acquire instruments of potential murder? It's actually harder to get a driver's license - which is an instrument of potential murder - than it is to get a gun, even though it's a lot easier to kill people with a gun. This makes absolutely no sense!

Di said...

This is why a lot of people go into my field. Because we all want to understand how something like this could happen. Often there is an explanation, but I pretty much guarantee it won't be a satisfying one.