Austin, Texas...Littleton, Colorado...and now Blacksburg, Virginia. While many had heard of Austin before the shooting rampage of Charles Whitman in 1966, how many people in our country had heard of Littleton, Colorado before the Columbine shootings? How about Blacksburg, Virginia? If I hadn't known someone who went to college there, I'd certainly have never heard of the quiet peaceful mountainous city. Unfortunately, the quiet and peaceful setting was viciously disturbed Monday, April 16th with the sound of gunshots and, ultimately, 33 dead including the shooter.
As with every major event, our mainline media outlets scramble to gather every tidbit of data they can, and then often immediately broadcast or release it in an effort to "scoop" the competition. Unfortunately that sometimes results in misunderstood information being distributed or bits and pieces of valid information get confused in the delivery. Nothing was different about the horror as it unfolded at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more commonly called Virginia Tech.
And, as with every other major event, within 24 hours of occurrence some politician offers sincere condolences followed by a condemnation of anyone who tries to leverage the event for their own gain, and then they immediately try to leverage the event for their own gain. Thankfully, in this case, most of the politicians that are currently in the limelight thanks to the upcoming presidential race were smart enough to offer condolences and point out that any other comments needed to wait until more information was available. Smart people. They surprised me.
But I wasn't to be disappointed. Before the dust had settled and before any factual information about weapons used, tactics of the shooter, history of the shooter, etc. was released, there were those spouting their opinions about gun control, academic liberty, school zone safety and more. I remind these people that it's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool rather than speak and remove all doubt. As an example, I point out the talking head I saw on television talking about the fully-automatic 9mm handgun the shooter used. Yeah. Okay. Keeping talking.
So, here I sit more than 72 hours later, pondering all of the information that has been released and thinking about the implications for our society and our schools moving forward. First we have to accept and understand that violence in our schools is nothing new. Starting in 1927 with the Bath, Michigan school attack, our schools have been targets of violence where the emotionally or mentally unstable or, more simply, the cold-hearted, release their anger and frustrations upon innocents. In our society, none are as innocent as our children, and we tend to view all people as "children" until their education is finished and they can stand independent of support. Certainly, although they might be insulted, this term includes many college students.
In the past decade we have seen an explosion of school violence that is unlike any other in documented history. In researching this article the only events I can find that surpass this school attack for sheer number of casualties--both dead and injured--are terrorist attacks committed against schools in other countries. The attack on Beslan Middle School #1 in Beslan, Russia in September of 2004 is the nightmare of all schools, but the casualties there weren't caused by a single disturbed shooter. The attack and casualties there were the result of a planned terrorist event orchestrated by 49 well conditioned, well trained and well armed terrorists.