Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Our Massacres, Ourselves

The minute I heard about the shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus, I could see the end of the story. As journalists, we know the school mass-shooting drill. Dig up everything you can from the cops. Find survivors, find witnesses, find family of the living and the dead. Look at the security. Look at other schools' security. Ask what could've been done differently. Mention Columbine somewhere. If you're a thousand miles away, find the local connections -- the people who have been there and have children there. Get the prayer services and the spontaneous memorials. Surf the net for photos you need -- everybody's on MySpace now. Days and days of coverage are before us, a remake of the same tragic story with a different cast and locations.

Before the Virginia Tech tragedy, we had Columbine. Before Columbine, we had Luby's. Before Luby's, we had the UT-Austin gunman. We had discussions about gun control and security. We had wake-up calls on bullying. We installed metal detectors, counselors, and early-warning systems. We encouraged kids to rat out their scheming classmates and save lives, which many have done, sparing us more bloodshed.

But it happened again. It will happen once more. And then it will happen yet again because this is the world we live in.

Legitimate questions are on the table about the way Virginia Tech police handled the first wave of violence and why the campus wasn't locked down before the gunman sprayed a classroom. I have yet to hear what evidence led officers to believe the shooting of two people at the residence hall was not worthy of clear and immediate emergency notification instead of an e-mail. We will have plenty of time to point fingers and say "mistakes were made." Undoubtedly, jobs will change hands and procedures will change with them. But we'll have another mass shooting, and we'll ask the same questions again -- about gun control, about warning signs, about policies and procedures and counteractive measures. Yet we will never submit to fear, locking ourselves out or wearing flak jackets and packing heat to even the odds.

We will, however, hug our children and pray the world they inherit spares them from such menace. But it's up to us. No matter who the gunman is, we'll find a person lacking the proper emotional stability and coping mechanisms. Those were not taken away from him. He did not "blow a fuse," as the metaphor goes. The equipment was never installed, because nobody installed it or nobody noticed it missing.

It doesn't matter whether or not you believe in God or family values. You must at least believe in life. Your young ones must learn they have no right to take that gift away -- from anybody. Times will come for self-defense, but sheer malice does not equate. Gun control, incarceration and three-strikes laws don't cure a mind ignorant of humanity. We are fully capable of dismissing our murderous impulses if only someone shows us the way. Most of us have learned these lessons. But our lives are at the mercy of those who have not.

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