The tragedy at Virginia Tech

My dad used to say the pain we feel when we lose someone close to us is directly proportionate to the love we had for them. The families who lost loved ones in last week’s tragedy at Virginia Tech are feeling that pain now, and though it will become somewhat easier to bear as time passes, it will never go away. There are no words of condolence adequate for their loss. Losing a child, for any reason, must be the most painful experience we could have. The loss of any close relative or friend is a horrible blow, but that of one’s own child must be devastating. Knowing the child died in furtherance of some noble purpose might be some small consolation, but the VT parents don’t even have that. It’s difficult to imagine what could cause someone to commit such a heinous crime. The evidence in this case seems to raise more questions than it answers. The only thing we know for sure is that, whatever the killer was hoping to accomplish, he failed. His death was as senseless as those he caused. This leaves an empty feeling of helplessness, one that many are trying to fill by looking for ways to keep this kind of thing from happening again. There is no question something needs to be done, that ignoring the problem will not make it go away. School shootings, although they are on the decline, are still far too frequent. And the next one, every parent knows, could happen at the school your child attends. One suggested solution is to include negative mental health evaluations in background check data, and deny gun sales to those with a history of mental illness. This is certainly an option, but it wouldn’t help in cases that were either undiagnosed, or where the person already owned firearms before the illness was discovered. It’s basically a good idea that wouldn’t offer any real benefit in most cases. There have been plenty of other suggestions in regard to schools, such as metal detectors and more security guards, but on an open campus such as Virginia Tech, with 26,000 students and no definite boundaries between the school and the surrounding town, these would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement. We would all rather our children lived in a violence free world, if there were such a thing. In a column written for Slate magazine the day after the tragedy, John T. Casteen, IV, held forth that the only gun law that would make a real difference would be one requiring background checks for any transfer of a firearm, even between individuals. In order to sell a gun to your friend, you both would have to go to a dealer with a FFL and have him be responsible for the transaction. For a fee, of course. When considered objectively it becomes obvious that this would only cause more crime. Anyone with so little regard for law that they would shoot 32 innocent people will obtain the means to do it. If they can’t get hold of guns legally, they will get them some other way. So Casteen’s idea has no merit whatever. But then, when dealing with a mentally deranged subject, there are no easy answers. Education is the solution to most of America’s violence problems, but it won’t work with someone like the VT gunman. The only way to stop such a murderer, intent on violence, is with violence. Which is why such people find American schools such target-rich environments. A gun-free campus, to such a person, is basically a shooting range with live targets. He knows no one there is armed, so he will be able to cause plenty of damage before police can arrive to stop him. The only logical solution to this situation is to eliminate such attractive playgrounds for psychopaths. We cannot, by any stretch, remove all the guns from society, and even if we could, such an effort would be unconstitutional and violate the rights of all the law abiding citizens of our country. But we can stop putting bullseyes on our children. Some schoolteachers and administrators should have access to firearms at all times. Those who do not object to carrying guns on their campuses would probably have to pass a class similar to those required for concealed carry training, although more rigorous and exacting, and undergo annual psychological examinations. That would make a difference. At least, it did at Appalachian Law School in Grundy, Va. in January 2002. A former student entered the campus and started shooting. Two individuals ran to their cars and came back with guns. The criminal was stopped after killing ‘only’ three students. Like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the tragedy at VT has affected every American to some extent. We all feel a sense of loss, we all mourn, we all look for answers and solutions. Hopefully we will find some solutions, but we can’t do that if we’re looking in the wrong direction’ ‘Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist. Write to him at P.O. Box 1600, Mason, Tex. 76856 or

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