Tuesday, April 17, 2007

October 1982 - April 16, 2007

I learned a long time ago that schools aren't safe. At the time, it was a rather elite club. The club you became a member of the second someone brought a gun into your school and shot it. For myself and at least 3500 fellow students at Lake Braddock Secondary School, that happened in October 1982.

I still remember what I was wearing and where I was when Jamie Stevens marched into the main office and took the school hostage - turtleneck, jeans and keds; I was in fifth period math; I was in a performance of "Oklahoma" that evening. In other words, everything was normal. Then came the plea from the Main Office secretary for a particular student to come down to the office and then we were held in class for a very long time. We all still thought it was a late fire drill when, over an hour later, I went to the hallway to get a drink of water. We'd been in the room for over two hours, I had finished my homework and I was thirsty. I should have stayed in my seat. If I had, I wouldn't relive watching the SWAT team and their dogs aiming guns down the main hallway of my school every time a school shooting occurs.

We were lucky. I think we are the only school hostage situation that received national attention and no one was killed, let alone hurt. The only shots fired were fired at the locker bay across from the main hall and into the ceiling tiles above the secretary's desk. The thing is, being lucky doesn't stop you from remembering or reliving what you remember when you see the SWAT team storm a school. But still, we were lucky.

We as a country have learned a great deal since the first school shootings in the 1960s. Today, they are setting up grief counselors and starting anew with Convocation. These two things may seem small and unrelated, but they aren't. The counselors will help students cope with the past while Convocation will allow them to start fresh, begin a new chapter. Twenty-five years ago we didn't have the counselors, and I am not sure how much they would have helped us. As I said, we were lucky.

Over the years we have learned a lot about grief counseling, the need for there to be a respite from classes and returning to the norm, who or at least why most of the students who commit these acts start planning, and we have learned how to move forward, after a time. We have learned more about the type of person who commits this type of murder - loner, quiet, feels as though they have been wronged, seemingly controlled on the outside yet angry inside. The one thing we haven't seemed to learn is how to keep guns out of the hands of those who would use them for harm in the first place.

Please do not get me wrong, I am a firm believer in the second amendment. I believe that every citizen has the right to bear arms. However, I believe the type of arms should be limited to a degree. There is no reason that I can think of where an individual would need a semi-automatic hand gun unless they were military or police. We have all heard the saying "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." While this is true, it would be a whole lot harder for people to kill people if there were more controls on how guns are purchased and which guns are available to the general public.

That being said, I am not sure any gun control laws or protocols would have stopped Cho Seung-Hui from fulfilling his self proscribed mission yesterday. Something inside of him was hurt to a point where all he could do was burst out in violence. According to what I have read, students and faculty both noticed the issues and he was referred to the counseling center. In other words, this was not someone who was under the radar - people knew there were issues. The problem is, you can only help someone as much as they want to be helped. Obviously, in this case, he just didn't want any help.

Another question to ask is are we as a society are also to blame when these children kill? We live in a society that allows for extreme reactions to general hurt without saying to our kids "This action is wrong". We also live in a country where it is so incredibly easy to get a gun, no matter what kind, and where kids can learn to shoot them using incredibly realistic first-person shoot video games. I agree with the saying, people kill people, but that doesn't mean we have to supply the weapon of choice readily. It also doesn't assuage our responsibility as a society to teach our children that it is wrong to fire a gun at another person in anger or revenge. We need to be able to help our children learn how to deal with their frustration in a way that does not include harming others or themselves. Again, I am not sure this would have stopped yesterday from happening. I am not sure that anything could have.

There is much we can learn from yesterday's tragedy. There are many things that we can work to improve as far as safety is concerned. What we should not do is panic and force our universities or ourselves into an artificial bubble. Higher learning is an open forum and needs to remain that way so new ideas can emerge. There is too much to be said about this tragedy to fit it all into this format. I am sure that in the coming months we will see books emerge about the Virginia Tech massacre, but for now we are all in mourning for so many lost minds and souls. For heros that stood in doorways and for students who were shot where they lay.

Mostly, I mourn for the loss of innocence. For the realization that almost twenty-five years later, school is still not safe.

May the one who brings peace bring peace to all who mourn.

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