Today I received half a dozen frenzied calls, all from people quite panicked and stricken with fear, and all of whom shared one thing in common: they know my nephew is a sophomore at Virginia Tech, or VPI as those of us who grew up in Virginia still call it.
Early this morning a man with a gun opened fire and killed upwards of 30 innocent people, apparently at random, at the Tech campus. (The details of the tragedy are still coming in, at the time of this writing, Monday afternoon, 4/16/07). Before the local police killed the shooter, he managed to spread terror in two different dorms and the engineering building, the latter for which Tech is famous.
When I first heard the news from my father in South Carolina, I was not alarmed. Not as alarmed as I was in September, when another shooting incident happened at Tech when a convict escaped and killed a man on campus. Back in September, which incidentally happed to be the first day of school, the incident was an anomaly.
Surely this time around, I thought to myself, as I was being given the news that yet another gunman was on the loose at Tech, students will have armed themselves after such a diabolical incident at the beginning of the Fall semester of '06.
I made the irrational assumption that the students who hunt, (Blacksburg is located in excellent duck and deer country, having been born in nearby Roanoke), would either bring their hunting guns to campus after Christmas break – sorry "Winter Break", and keep them on hand and ready, prepared for the dim chance that another shooting incident would happen at the beautiful Tech campus.
Some other folks, I assumed, would head on down to the local gun shop, either at home or in Blacksburg, and buy them selves a .30/'06, a .30-30, or maybe a Remington 1100 and keep it stashed somewhere in their dorm with the improbable prospect that another shooter would rampage Virginia Tech.
But the casualties continued to mount throughout the morning. Here in my office in New York, I kept checking in with the CNN website. I managed to see some footage at the bank where CNN was on. New York news radio reported live from the scene.
But it only got worse. Students kept getting killed. When is this horror going to end? Why is nobody on campus taking charge of this and dropping this mad man with a shot? Where are the hunters, and why aren't they taking this idiot out? Where are the regular Americans who were brought up with guns – the great grandsons of Confederate veterans who rose up out of the Virginia clay like their grandparents and enrolled at Tech. WHY AREN'T THEY SHOOTING AT THIS GUY?!
When I was in college, further south and twenty years earlier than my nephew, we all had guns in the dorm and later, our houses off campus. I recall an incident one night during my junior year, when my friends and I were drinking beer and cleaning our guns, and as college students who have been drinking beer are prone to do, we ordered pizza. The delivery man came, and was shocked – shocked at the horrible scene laid out before his apparently yankee eyes – several men in their early twenties cleaning guns, drinking beer, talking politics, and generally having one hell of a good time.
So imagine our own shock when a half hour later a local policeman knocked on the door and said it was his duty to investigate a report of "guns and alcohol in the dorms."
The "incident" ended with the policeman giving us duck hunting and shooting tips on the local river, and inspecting the quality of our cleaning jobs on the various guns. (Incidentally, one was an AR 15, the civilian version of the M 16, and is not, and never will be, used for hunting).
During the morning I went to the BBC website which catalogued the incidents of killings in American schools. The presentation seemed smug. The detail went all the way back to 1997 and ended with this morning's tragedy.
Perhaps the British need to take a look at the current and ever-changing gun laws in this country, and ask themselves, why do so many shootings seem to take place in our schools? Why have there been eighteen separate incidents of people with guns killing innocents in schools since 1997?
The answer lies in the gun laws themselves. Schools are one of the best places to commit murder with a gun because guns are not allowed in schools. Criminals with the intention of killing in a school know they will be unmolested until the police are called and the criminal eventually shot. This allows ample time to invoke tragedy on countless families, just as the horrific events this morning in Blacksburg.
And yes, my nephew is okay. I talked to him after lunch. He was driving back stunned to North Carolina without his gun. His 12-gauge is still at his parent's house because current school rules prohibit students from bringing guns to campus.
April 17, 2007