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The Shootings in Virginia

We are not going to know what happened for days or weeks. A single murder causes widespread shock in a small town, and something of this magnitude, will really amplify that effect.

Don’t make any assumptions about anything until we really know what happened. Eyewitness reports are not reliable – they are generally what people think happened. The brain has a nasty habit of blocking things people don’t want to remember and adding things to make a “better” story. You have to sift through and gather facts from multiple witnesses to get an approximation of the truth.

Evidence testing takes time. There isn’t a crime lab in the country that has all of the equipment that is displayed on television shows. No jurisdiction could afford it or the people needed to operate it.

Politicians will feel required to pass laws almost immediately. This always leads to bad laws. [Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act in a state of shock.]

People feel helpless and want to do something – I’m sorry but there’s nothing we can do until we understand what happened, and, even then, there may be nothing we can do except show empathy for those who lost their loved ones.

11 comments

1 Steve Bates { 04.17.07 at 12:45 am }

Exactly so. Thank you.

2 Michael { 04.17.07 at 8:39 am }

That was pretty much what I was planning to say on the subject later today. Maybe now I’ll just link to this post.

3 Bryan { 04.17.07 at 9:01 am }

From what I’ve heard and seen in passing, the media is doing stream of consciousness reporting. The local officials have never trained for this or expected it, and many will have known victims. Making one call to a next of kin is difficult, but this will be overwhelming.

I have a special affinity for the guys in local law enforcement. They will be second guessing themselves for the rest of their lives, trying to figure what they didn’t do that would have stopped this.

Grief on an individual basis is a difficult thing to deal with, but this is too much for a small community.

4 andante { 04.17.07 at 1:26 pm }

I have already spoken much the same thing to three people this morning….wait for the investigation to progress.

This I do know, however. My daughter was an RA in her sophomore year, has been an Assistant Residence Director for the last two years, and has been hired as a full-time Residence Director next year.

The first male killed was an RA, possibly trying to solve a dispute, which is one of the functions of an RA, ARD, and RD.

It scares the hell out of me.

5 Bryan { 04.17.07 at 4:27 pm }

Tell her to call the police on her way to the problem. The police are paid to do this, RAs aren’t. The good departments will have sent people through FACIT [Family And Crisis Intervention Techniques] classes, if they didn’t get it in the police academy. These situations trail only traffic stops as the most dangerous calls cops answer. Everyone thinks its robbery or burglary, but you never know what’s waiting for you on a highway, and people angry enough to attract attention to their home can go off on you in a second.

It’s better to have help on the way and not need it, than to need help and not be able to get it.

6 andante { 04.17.07 at 5:19 pm }

The procedure (as I understand it) is to call campus security first unless it’s already a life-threatening situation. Campus security isn’t armed, unless it’s something like a can of pepper spray or a stun gun.

As you say, the big problem is you never know what’s waiting for you. At the very least, I believe all residence life staff should have self-defense training and access to something like pepper spray.

I suppose nothing much can stop a deranged individual with a semi-automatic weapon. I’m not totally anti-gun; I believe there are circumstances when individuals are wise to own a gun for protection. I am, however, totally opposed to civilians owning automatic weapons.

7 Bryan { 04.17.07 at 5:49 pm }

Hair spray is as good as Mace and it’s legal everywhere. The martial arts are excellent exercise, even without the self-defense component.

A fire hose can stop almost anyone, if someone thinks to use it. The same for a CO2 fire extinguisher.

Automatic weapons, when permitted by the state, are taxed [$250/year] and regulated by the Feds, even if they are owned by law enforcement. I opposed them on the principle that they aren’t very accurate, waste a lot of ammunition, are no more effective than a shotgun with buckshot, and anyone who wants one shouldn’t be trusted with a jack knife. There was a lot of discussion when they were introduced by a local jurisdiction for their SWAT team. I’ve used an M-16 and an UZI [in the military] and would rather have Remington 12-gauge pump.

If the perpetrator was a foreign student on a visa, as reported, I’m going to be interested in hearing how he could buy any gun. Someone is going to be in trouble over that, if they were obtained “legally”.

8 Alice { 04.17.07 at 11:01 pm }

Excellent post. Because of our 24/7 news cycle, vapid statements and conjecture have become the coin of the realm. Facts are quickly set aside or outright ignored. A tragedy occurred in Blacksburg, although even as I type the word I realize it’s too small a label to be applied to this horrific event. As a Virginia Tech alumna, what I want to tell all those idiot talking heads is: don’t politicize, don’t pontificate and don’t judge. Just tell us what happened and let us mourn our dead.

9 Steve Bates { 04.18.07 at 2:07 am }

I turned on the TV today, a rarity for me, and the talking heads were still spewing crap about this tragic incident, because in the absence of information, they still have to fill air time.

Let’s face it: no law enforcement, no gun laws and no students packing heat could possibly have prevented an obvious crazy from committing this horrific act. Unfortunately, no banning of guns could have prevented it, either. Restrictions on purchases of firearms will, with certainty, be circumvented sometimes despite best efforts. There is no magic answer… none. As surely as Gingrich’s generalization about Columbine was absurd and offensive, many generalizations about this incident will be cheap political opportunism, and I make no apology for saying so.

When I re-met Stella in 1997, she owned a tiny pistol. In her defense, she had recently experienced an assault, from which she managed to escape by a clever line of talk… psychotherapists can think of things to say that most of us never would. I tried to talk her into getting rid of the pistol, because it was so small it would not have stopped a squirrel, let alone an assailant… and because Stella would never have fired it, kindly soul that she is. For all I know, she still owns it; we don’t talk about it. Guns are seldom the solution to any nonmilitary problem.

As to this incident, it will be some time before we know what happened, why it happened and what it means. That time cannot be rushed. My hope is that legislators will not be bolted into doing something stupid… but it is in the nature of most state legislators to follow the political path of least resistance, and I do not have a lot of hope of sensible response to this tragedy.

Here I am, as usual, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst…

10 Alice { 04.18.07 at 7:56 am }

At one time in my life I lived in a rather sketchy neighborhood. Around one corner was the edge of gentrification; around the other were crackhouses. And gun shots were not uncommon.

Because of this, a friend tried to give me a gun, for protection he said. But life isn’t a movie and the chances of me operating a gun with the calmness and precision of a commando were zilch to none. Assuming, of course, that I could actually reach the gun in time to use it. For many, a gun is false protection because most will buy it, stick it in a drawer and that’s it. They may occasionally shoot on the range, but not consistently enough to have it become second nature. Owning a gun doesn’t automatically protect you.

So I opted for a dog. Much more fun to own and I discovered that many people have a healthy respect for dogs, especially when they’re staring down someone and growling. And training him to strain on the leash as if I couldn’t hold him was just an added touch.

11 Bryan { 04.18.07 at 8:44 am }

Since we are geeks here at the moment, you can’t design a system until you understand the parameters of the problem. There may be problems that can be addressed, but we don’t know yet.

I assume the university had the normal manning standard: too many people if nothing was going on, and not enough if anything happened, although with rising costs they may have down-sized to just enough people to almost handle the normal work load.

A large dog is the best option, Alice. You are not apt to lose it and you don’t have to worry about it falling into the wrong hands.