Questions from Virginia Tech

I'll bet that the ones who have learned the least from all of this will be the media.


Ok, how quickly is immediately? How long would it take to secure over 100 separate buildings on a 2,600 acre campus? That's the equivalent of a good sized town. And, of course, what about the students who were still arriving for classes? This wasn't a K-12 sort of campus, where everyone starts at the same time and leaves at the same time. The logistics of such an undertaking are mind boggling. Locking down the campus would take a lot of time and a lot of manpower. Not that I'm saying it shouldn't be done, but let's be realistic about what it takes to accomplish that formidable of a task. Then there's the small matter that the gunman (who was still unidentified at the time) was one of the very students they were expected to protect. Cho would have received the same warnings as everyone else and could have planned his next actions based on the campus response. I can just see Cho knocking on the door of Norris Hall, pretending to be frightened and seeking safe refuge. There would have been no reason to deny him entry. After all, he was just another student.

What about the campus being a "gun free" zone?

Well, Cho must have had a pretty good idea that he would be the only armed person in either of the buildings. Bad guys don't follow the rules. If killing other human beings for malevolent reasons is acceptable to you, then violating a gun law or two is hardly likely to bother your conscience, particularly if you are willing to die in the process. Rather than being safer, the law abiding folks are probably at greater risk, as the "safe predator" zone is clearly defined by law or by the posting of private property. What gun free zones really mean for the police is that the people who make the rule or the law expect you to be responsible for protecting the people in their zone. Is that a reasonable expectation? Effectively prohibiting guns, or any weapons for that matter, can only be accomplished with tight physical security measures, including metal detectors, x-ray machines and physical searches. Sometimes even that doesn't work. Can you imagine the resources required to provide airport-like security at just one college campus like Virginia Tech? Or are we now to build walls around areas the size of cities and man the drawbridges?

An even tougher question is: Would allowing lawfully armed students, faculty or anyone else on campus have made any difference? The answer is educated speculation, but as far as I'm concerned, absolutely "yes." Would the possibility that he would face armed resistance soon after starting his shooting spree have acted as a deterrent to Cho? We can't say for sure, but does history tell us that the killing of innocents in such cases stops when the shooter(s) are confronted by any armed resistance, be it police or armed citizens. It stopped Harris and Klebold at Columbine. It stopped Charles Whitman in the Texas Tower, it has stopped a number of others and it finally stopped Cho, when he realized that the police had arrived. We have a new paradigm for "active shooters" ever since Columbine. Engage and isolate. The maniacs that commit these despicable crimes against apparently helpless victims never have the stomach to face determined resistance that places them in danger. Much was made of the number of innocent people killed and wounded that day. Much was made of the carnage caused by one man with two guns. Not much mention is made of the fact that only one other gun, in the right hands, could have stopped the massacre even as it began. And to those who claim that more guns could have accidentally injured innocent bystanders, I ask this: 32 innocent people were slaughtered under the "no guns" rule. Do you really expect me to believe that it would have been worse?

There are other issues, but space doesn't allow more at this time. The police and the university did their best in a very difficult and unusual situation. Lessons will be learned. Things will change and we will be even better prepared. Painful and expensive decisions will have to be made about training, staffing, equipment, the failure of the firearms background checks to detect Cho's mental health record and even whether people have the right to effectively defend themselves. And, after all of that, down the road some other predator will find the soft spots in the society's armor and it will happen again. I'll bet that the ones who have learned the least from all of this will be the media.

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.