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The smoking gun at Virginia Tech

Heather Lemon
Vail CO, Colorado

As a mother, I cried as I watched the unspeakable horror at Virginia Tech. With three kids in colleges around the country, this mindless, random assault could have been directed at them. Relief flooded my emotions as the news that Josh Ball, a freshman at the attacked dorm at VT, a friend of my daughter’s, and the son of a colleague in my office, was safe. But that did not diminish my grief for the murdered victims ” nationally respected teachers, idealistic freshmen, accomplished multiple major seniors, all gone in a senseless act of indiscriminate violence. Such a waste of human life; one death is too many, 32 is incomprehensible. At a time when we should be celebrating spring, new beginnings and graduations we are faced once again with senseless loss of life.

While it is difficult to measure, and reporting standards around the world are lacking, the International Action Network on Small Arms has documented 55 shootings resulting in death or injury on school campuses worldwide since 1996, 41 of these incidents and 109 deaths recorded in the United States, including the massacre at Virginia Tech. With Platte Canyon and Columbine still fresh in our memories we are all wondering why? Why these innocent lives who have contributed so much, or who have so much promise, why were they the victims of this insanity? What drives someone to this extreme of anti-social behavior?

The knee jerk reaction is to blame the gun. The Europeans point to the 200 million guns in the United States and the gun-murder rate in the U.S. being 30 times that of England and Wales. The Economist, in their April 18 article, referred to the 2nd Amendment ” the “right to bear arms” ” as the national religion in the U.S. Iranian newspapers unsympathetically charged the “culture of violence and bloodshed preached by the super terrorists in the White House.” The media quoted a New York Police Commissioner as stating that Virginia is the source of most of the weapons involved in gun-related crime in the city. Gun advocates wondered whether he could have been stopped at much less loss of life, had there been no ban on guns on campus and any of the students or faculty been carrying a permitted weapon. But the great gun debate and the wringing of hands over lax gun control laws in Virginia or Colorado for that matter, begs the question ” why is violence among our youth increasing at such an alarming rate?



In the past 80 years there have been 250 deaths related to school shootings, 109 in the last 10 years. But the violence is not limited to guns. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 2,000 students every year will commit or attempt suicide. The rate of drug overdoses has more than doubled from 1999 to 2004. According to the Task Force on College Drinking there are 1,400 drinking related deaths every year. And binge drinking contributes to more than 70,000 cases of sexual assault or rape each year. There are more than 500,000 reported incidents of violence against teachers annually.

We are incubating a viral culture of violence through our media fascination with crime and war, our television programming, and the proliferation of shoot-em-up video games. Players are numbed to the human tragedy of death by the sheer number of kills executed daily. We FaceBook, My Space, text message, and for the more mundane, e-mail our way through life with an iPod firmly implanted in the ear. Real, live human interaction is reduced to transactions and information processing. Time magazine recently suggested that a regular, home-cooked, family dinner may do more for socialization than years of education.



We fail to take responsibility for our actions ” it must be someone else’s fault, and I should be able to sue for it. The norms and values of society, and the discipline, responsibility and privilege to participate are lost. And we suffer for it.

For the sociopaths, like Cho Seung-Hui, community has failed. The catastrophic result is the 32 tragically wasted lives at Virginia Tech. The smoking gun is not the 9mm Glock, but the pre-meditated, calculated deadly spree, pumping multiple bullets into victims mirroring video games.

Heather Lemon of Eagle-Vail writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. She can be reached at lemonvail@aol.com.


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