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Virginia Tech +2 Years

Today is the second anniversary of the massacre of 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg Va. That incident was not the first, and sadly was not the last mass killing at a school or public place. Actually the number of incidents and the casualties is startling. Next Monday will also be ten years since the Columbine shootings.

There are many questions still left unanswered. Some still wonder if incidents like Columbine or Va. Tech could have been prevented. An ABC News article titled "Psychology of Virginia Tech, Columbine Killers Still Baffles Experts" starts off with the statement that not all psychotics, psychopaths will become school shooters; Mental Health Education Needed." It also references a report written in 2002 regarding the Columbine shootings as it related to the events at Virginia Tech.

Some of the conclusions of the federal report were borne out in the Virginia Tech tragedy: shooters tend not to snap, but usually plan months or years in advance and often tell a friend or classmate. Cho reportedly began planning his attack more than a month before the 2007 massacre, when he purchased his first gun. His video, made in combat gear, appears to have been made at least six days before the attack.

Certainly, there have been lessons learned from these tragedies. At least one public university that I am aware of now uses Twitter to communicate with its students to provide real-time alerts about class changes, closings due to weather, and hopefully never, about another campus shooting incident. Others have either adopted or developed their own emergency communications systems throughwhich campus security or the adminstration can send alerts to students on there computers, cell phones or PDAs. But the problem remains and is a serious one.

The Secret Service found that 71% of shooters they studied felt "persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others." In several cases, they'd experienced school bullying and harassment that was "long-standing and severe."

"These kids didn't pick the local movie theater to blow people away, and there's a reason they picked school," says David Osher, a sociologist and vice president at the American Institutes for Research.

Schools that tolerate lots of bullying and look the other way from petty acts of violence are more vulnerable to escalating violence, including rampages from shooters, he says.

And where relations between teachers and kids with emotional problems are harsh or distant, violence becomes more likely.

"These are rage shootings," he says, "kids suffering from depression largely creating public suicides in school environments where they feel alienated."

Yet, it was recently asked if we had become numb to mass murders?

"Tragically, I think many Americans have become more desensitized, more numb to the mass murder, to the massacre, because it is no longer that unusual," said Howard Kurtz, a media critic for the Washington Post. "It doesn't mean that everybody doesn't get a feeling in their gut when they hear that a bunch of innocent people have died at the hands of one crazy gunman, but it is no longer a story that we've never heard of before," said Kurtz. "So there's a certain ritual to it. We know what to expect."

A related issue is now being debated in states like Texas that allow people to carry concealed hand guns. Should students be permitted to carry concealed hand guns on campus to prevent the "next" Columbine or Virginia Tech? Student at the University of Texas marched in protest against Texas House Bill 1893 that would permit hand guns on campus. Some people argue that if the campus at Virginia Tech had not been declared a "gun free zone" fewer people might have been killed. Perhaps yes, but possibly no. The argument being given by the legislators against allowing students to carry weapons on campus is as follows:

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, spoke during the rally against the bill. "Someone with a concealed handgun license is not a deputy sheriff or a police officer," Rodriguez said. "If a campus police officer arrived at a school shooting, how will that person decide who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in that situation?"

Actually, I think that the more compelling argument is that it is one thing to own a hand gun and to practice on the range, and an entirely different case to be in a tense and emotional situation and know when, or if, the use of deadly force is warranted. Further, anyone less than an expert marksman could fire and miss, injuring or killing an otherwise safe and innocent bystander.

The articles written by ThreatsWatch regarding campus killings can be found here and here.

3 Comments

"If a campus police officer arrived at a school shooting, how will that person decide who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in that situation?"

Easy -- the good guy cooperates with police.

I doubt that every police agency shares information to the point where an undercover officer from one department knows how to positively identify himself to an officer from another department. Either you'd have a system that's too complex, or one that's too easily compromised as groups from campus police to county sheriffs to state troopers need to interact.

If that's the most compelling argument against student carry, then let the adult students carry. It's the same argument that is used for any concealed carry situation, and we haven't seen problems with good guy - bad guy mixups.

Tom, I respect your perspective (having read your email). I don't believe that the most compelling argument against student carry is what the Texas State Rep. said at all (I had mistyped it when I poosted the article earlier). As I wrote, "It is one thing to own a hand gun and to practice on the range, and an entirely different case to be in a tense and emotional situation and know when, or if, the use of deadly force is warranted. Further, anyone less than an expert marksman could fire and miss, injuring or killing an otherwise safe and innocent bystander."

Research has determined that from the Moment of Commitment (the point when a student pulls their weapon) to the Moment of Completion (when the last round is fired) is only 5 seconds. If it is the intent of a school district to react to this violence, they will do so over the wounded and/or slain bodies of students, teachers and administrators.

Educational institutions clearly want safe and secure schools. Administrators are perennially queried by parents about the safety of their schools. The commonplace answers, intended to reassure anxious parents, focus on the school resource officers and emergency procedures. While useful, these less than adequate efforts do not begin to provide a definitive answer to preventing school violence, nor do they make a school safe and secure.

Traditionally school districts have relied upon the mental health community or local police to keep schools safe, yet one of the key shortcomings has been the lack of a system that involves teachers, administrators, parents and students in the identification and communication process. Recently, colleges, universities and community colleges are forming Behavioral Intervention Teams with representatives from all these constituencies. Higher Education has changed their safety/security policies, procedures, or surveillance systems, yet K-12 have yet to incorporate Behavioral Intervention Teams. K-12 schools continue spending excessive amounts of money to put in place many of the physical security options. Sadly, they are reactionary only and do little to prevent aggression because they are designed exclusively to react to existing conflict, threat and violence. These schools reflect a national blindspot, which prefers hardening targets through enhanced security versus preventing violence with efforts directed at aggressors. Security gets all the focus and money, but this only makes us feel safe, rather than to actually make us safer.

Some law enforcement agencies use profiling as a means to identify an aggressor. According to the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education’s report on Targeted Violence in Schools, there is a significant difference between “profiling” and identifying and measuring emerging aggression; “The use of profiles is not effective either for identifying students who may pose a risk for targeted violence at school or – once a student has been identified – for assessing the risk that a particular student may pose for school-based targeted violence.” It continues; “An inquiry should focus instead on a student’s behaviors and communications to determine if the student appears to be planning or preparing for an attack.” We can and must assess objective, culturally neutral, identifiable criteria of emerging aggression.

For a comprehensive look at the problem and its solution, http://www.aggressionmanagement.com/White_Paper_K-12/

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