MCCULLOUGH: VT tragedy’s red herring issue

Will McCullough

After the horrific events of last Monday, there has been an outpouring of support for the entire Virginia Tech community. In many cases, this support has been accompanied by blame aimed at members of various groups associated with Virginia Tech. It has mostly involved some variation of these three: poor university warning and response time, an enormous misstep in the societal recognition of a dangerous mind and the debate on gun control.

Many media outlets, including an opinion in this paper, have suggested that if students were warned earlier or if the campus were locked down, the killings would have ended at two instead of 32. These suggestions may be right, or they may be wrong, but is two an acceptable number of people to die in a campus shooting? The notion suggests that there could have been some type of logistical management that could have contained the situation to an acceptable level; it was unacceptable as soon as the first shots were fired. Although there may have been some things wrong or lagging in the university’s response time, to suggest that a tragedy could have been prevented through cancelling classes is a response ensconced in the need for immediate accountability.

In the hours and days that followed, the killer’s collegiate history surfaced. Reported details concerning mental instability induced questions about why he had not been “red flagged” by law enforcement or the university. His behavior and writing have been described as weird and non-specifically worrisome. Many people act beyond bizarre; many act beyond the bizarre that had been exhibited by Cho. We cannot solve this problem easily by simply locking soame people up and hoping for the best.

The final issue centers around the third, most lacking and ultimately the most relevant subject of discourse: the debate over gun control. Put simply, had the killer not had access to the guns used, a shooting could not have occurred. Not even the outspoken members of the NRA can deny that. Those with gun interests suggest that there is an inherent need and a right for American citizens to have guns; this ignores the lives of all those killed by gunfire, not only those killed in this massacre. The oft-cited phrase, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” is completely wrong – guns do kill people.

When you try to talk about the curtailing or elimination of guns, a couple of things happen, in no particular order. The person advocating control is immediately labeled as insanely left. People claim gun and hunting culture is essentially part of American culture. This is usually followed closely by, or in conjunction with, a citation of the Constitution’s Second Amendment, which precipitates the talk of personal protection. In its editorial, The Economist (a distinctly conservative magazine that has generally advocated fewer restrictions on guns) was correct in asserting that for these reasons, and all of the political implications, “Politicians are still running away from the debate about guns.” Later, the article chronicles the perceived fallout from Democratic attempts to control guns, essentially asserting that because of their loss of political clout the last time they tried, the Democrats have abandoned that issue.

It is easier for the masses to make meaningless assignments of blame than to tackle the issue at hand. Again, in the words of the afore-cited editorial, “Instead of a debate about guns, America is now having a debate about campus security.” We need someone to blame for this tragedy so we can move on quickly. To steal a phrase from social critic Mark Edmundson, this country has become dependent on “facile transcendence.” The killer took his life, so he can no longer be blamed or punished, and meaningful debate about curtailing or eliminating killing machines would not be facile enough. Instead, we talk about what went wrong and how or if we should lock down areas or campuses.

This country is great – the best – though it would be nice if we could get over ourselves enough to recognize and alleviate something at the core of so many of problems we face.

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Will McCullough is a senior English major and economics minor from Plymouth Meeting, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]