The assassination of 33 students at Virginia Tech yesterday — creating the bloodiest massacre among 25,000 students across 2,600 campus acres in the modern history of the United States — begs the relationship between revenge, access to guns, and the rightful expression of fury in a civilized society.

How does one rationally reconcile the fact that half the students who
were killed were likely not even on campus yet when the first shots
were fired two hours before the classroom assassinations along with the
fact that the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was allowed to expire under Republican majority rule in 2004 thus increasing the capacity of 9mm pistols to hold 19 rounds per magazine instead of ten?

Where once “Going Postal” was the catch-phrase for unmitigated murder, it now appears “Going to College” has replaced that death sentence where our national identity is forged in metal and branded by white-hot lead shot.

Why do these shootings happen?

How can we begin to prevent the bloodshed?

Was anyone surprised by the news of this murder spree in the same way our national conscience was shocked to learn of the Columbine killings?

Or has this kind of bloodshed become part of the expected bloodsport risk of a university education today in America?

Why are handguns part of our national personality?
Are we required to forever live in the Wild West days of madman justice and revenge in the streets?
Is this kind of killing what The Right to Bear Arms has wrought in our Second Amendment?
Is the tombstone replacing the diploma?


  1. Interesting piece on the role such social networking sites as Facebook have had in the wake of this tragedy…
    Literally hundreds of groups have cropped up on Facebook in the past 24 hours–prime example: “A Tribute to Those Who Passed at the Virginia Tech Shooting” (over 100,000 members already).
    The only unfortunate thing I’ve encountered on Facebook thus far is another (rather similarly named) group, “A Tribute to Those Who Passed at the Horrific Virginia Tech Shooting,” that seems to be using this as an opportunity to blame VT officials for banning concealed weapons on campus. According a caption on one of several graphic and, frankly, insensitive photos featuring blood spatters–“Virginia Tech prohibits peaceable wearing of sidearms for self-protection…Ability to carry sidearms would have MADE them safe.”
    I’m sure more will come out on all of these issues in the coming days, weeks, months, etc. Very unfortunate buisness, to be sure.

  2. Thanks for sharing your fascinating research with us, Nicole.
    The Facebook phenomenon is amazing and you demonstrate the duality in the experience: Bringing us together while pushing away blame.
    There has to be a better solution to this kind of event than to give every student a sidearm. Restrict campus access. Increase video surveillance. Require ID swipes to enter buildings and classrooms and if you aren’t registered for the class you can’t get in the room or the building.

  3. David,
    As a result of this horrific incident, security measures have been increased for OU’s campus for the rest of the semester.
    Now all dormitory entrances will be permanently locked and will require an ID card and room key for access at all times. Previously, these doors were only locked at night.
    Within the last couple of hours, the entire campus was put on lock-down (classrooms were locked, dormitories were locked, no one was allowed to leave where they were until further notice) because someone spotted a person with a yoga mat strapped to their back and thought it was a weapon.

  4. Emily!
    I don’t think there’s a more vulnerable place than a college campus that isn’t protected. Open access kills. I don’t want a police state, but I do think all campuses must have tough security to protect the young kids who live, eat, sleep and learn on campus. For many of them the college campus has replaced the home neighborhood and a certain amount of toughness needs to surround them when it comes to their safety.
    I appreciate knowing what’s up at OU — I wonder why the new measures aren’t in force now and forever? I hope UNL is doing the same thing. UNL has an extremely open campuses with many unmanned access points for entry and escape.
    A yoga mat as a weapon — how sad and funny. Fear can be unsettling. Terror can make sane people paranoid.
    I just heard on the news a UT satellite campus is closed until Noon because of a “non-specific threatening note” found in the bathroom.

  5. It is a difficult and curious reality that it takes an incident like this to heighten security measures on college campuses to a reasonable level. Requiring identification to enter a building where people very vulnerably live should be a no-brainer. Why has that not been the policy at my university in the past? Why does it take the worst killing spree in US history to implement that policy?
    What is even worse is when, like in the OU yoga mat and UT “threatening note” cases, hysteria sets in and everything is seen as a potential killing spree and everyone is constantly terrified.
    Why the black-and-white? Why the either-or? Either we have loose security or we have mass paranoia?

  6. Emily —
    I agree it is sad that it takes death to get basic security implemented. At NYU pre-9/11 anyone on the street could enter any building and any classroom and use it.
    Janna was teaching an ASL class and a guy from the neighborhood came in to kick her out of “his room” because he was having a meeting of his own in there. She has a class full of students and this guy — who had no relationship with NYU other than living in the Village and stealing NYU’s classrooms for his own private business — was threatening her and interrupting her class. She stood up to him and called security and had him removed, but why the loose access and why the ability for the guy to come back the next day and roam the halls looking for an empty room he could use?
    NYU was born of the hippie movement and it was a delight to be open and free and provide an education for everyone in the area. After 9/11 NYU got smart. They closed down outsider access. Now you can’t enter any NYU building without proper ID. Hiring 24-hour guards for every single NYU building is incredibly expensive, but necessary, when you don’t have a real campus that has a perimeter you can protect.
    Fordham has two access points and they are super-hardened. Once you’re in, though, you’re in and you can put your ID away and freely roam. I prefer the Fordham method to the NYU method because you don’t have to keep pulling out your ID, but they’re both necessary in the new crazy world.
    There are a lot of vulnerable buildings in many places I’ve taught in the area. Anyone can get in during the day. No IDs are checked. The medical schools do a much better job of restricting access across the board but the “regular” universities and colleges need to follow and get in line before something else rotten happens.
    There’s going to be a lot of hysteria and copy catting now for awhile, I fear. It’s not the world we live in, it’s the world we’ve created with lax security and easy access to firearms — all done, and forsaken, in the name of freedom.

  7. Hi David,
    When I first heard about the scope of the shootings, the first thing I thought was this was some sort of terrorist incident along the lines of the Beslan school massacre.
    The thing that saddens me is the fact that people are beating up on the school administration and police for not locking down the whole campus after the first dorm shooting.
    I took a look at the VT Police Department’s website and see that there are approximately 41 officers on their force who could have responded to the first incident — assuming they weren’t split into two or three shifts. I didn’t count the communications officers needed to operate the radios and the lockup people since they might not necessarily be trained the same way as the regular officers.
    To lock down a campus with the population of a small city while conducting a homicide investigation, canvass and interview witnesses, chase down and interrogate a subject in a black pickup truck seen leaving the building after the first shooting with a force that probably had at most 15 officers on duty at that time would be a massive undertaking. I doubt that there are more than 15 officers on duty in my city as I write this — and that might be including administrative officers who in the headquarters. The same thing goes for the state police in my area — there might be 10 officers covering a 7 county area.
    The VT officers did set up a perimeter around the dorm and were doing their tasks around that building. Plus, they probably assumed the subject had fled the area or possibly the state per the chief’s statement at the first news conference.
    The police were advised that the first shooting was a domestic dispute and that someone had fled. The police, according to what I’ve gathered from the news conferences, had stopped and were interviewing a subject in regard to the first incident when the second incident occurred. Even if they had broadcast the description of the subject in the pickup truck they were looking for, the Asian subject would not have been scrutinized because the police weren’t looking for an Asian subject at that time.
    The second shooting incident was unforeseeable, except in 20/20 hindsight which is always perfect. I just hope that the police don’t get the blame for something that is comparable to the attacks during 9-11-01.
    When there are shootings in the urban core, it is not unusual for activity to continue as normal within a block or two of the area where police may have set up a perimeter and are conducting their investigation.
    Also, we must not forget that a college campus isn’t the same as a K-12 school that is probably already locked down to a single entrance controlled by a camera and remote locking device designed to keep strangers out of the building. Of course, that system wouldn’t work to prevent person known to the gatekeeper from doing something bad.
    Saying that, since the world has seen the VT tragedy, it would be wise to harden our college campuses since the bad guys have seen what one lone gunman was able to do by creating a major incident and taking advantage of the ensuing chaos involving that to go an a major rampage. I hope we are able to figure out to increase security before terrorists with training would decide to bring horror to the heartland.
    We must also remember that no amount of security will stop someone determined to infiltrate any particular place. When I was living at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, I remember seeing high school kids climbing the barbed wire perimeter fence to sneak into cars driven by kids who lived off base. On all college campuses, there is always a problem with propped-open security doors (or with people holding doors open for anyone following them into the building).

  8. I just read a report that the shooter was a deranged English major whose writings caused officials to refer him to counseling.
    A lot of our problems would be cured if we figured out a way to better treat people who were exhibiting mental disorders.

  9. An education attorney quoted in a Chicago Tribune written by Aamer Madhani and James Janega said that the actions the school undertook were rational and reasonable.

    Sheldon Steinbach, a longtime higher education attorney (said) …
    “The first concern of the administration was the security of their students,” said Steinbach, of Dow Lohnes in Washington, D.C. “The actions that they took — although now subject to Monday-morning quarterbacking — were effective, rational and reasonable at the time.”

  10. Chris —
    Your analysis of the situation is on-point and most of the things we’ve been discussing here wouldn’t apply to the tasks we’re trying to assign for hardening campuses because the shooter was a student, had ID, lived in a dorm on campus and had the right to come and go as he pleased at the university because he was part of the community.
    The main complaint I’m hearing is that in the age of instant communication, a blast alert was not sent out to every student via email or pager or cellphone SMS message from the university administration telling them to go to a safe place for lockdown protection after the first shooting around 7am.
    When a feeble and generic warning was made public moments before the second round of shotting — via the website — concerning “an incident” without mention of killings… it was too late because the shooter began stage two of his attack on the classrooms during the 9am hour.
    If only — people have wished — an alert had been sent out two hours before the second shots were fired… some students might not have gone to class or would have stayed home off campus or could have sought protected, hardened shelter under police control in a safe house somewhere.
    I agree insane acts like this are hard to predict — even when troubled students are identified — but I think all university policy should be when shots are fired anywhere on campus, the entire on campus and off campus student/faculty communities are immediately notified so they can make a decision how best to deal with that threat.

  11. Chris —
    Mentally ill people are difficult to treat in America because they cannot really be coerced into treatment. Even prisoners in psych wards can refuse medication if they do not want to take it and the government cannot force them to take the meds.
    Would it be better if we force-fed the mentally ill medication and held them somewhere on a suspicion that they might to hard to themselves or others? It’s difficult to hold someone on a suspicion for more than three days in many jurisdictions.

  12. Chris!
    Thanks for that link the messages the university sent out. It’s the 2 hour delay in contact that concerns most people. Something should’ve been blasted out right after the first incident was confirmed.

  13. Hi David,
    The blast text message could work — but there could always be issues with the cell phone service. In the past, our EMA has paged out weather alerts via SMS text messaging and some people get the messages relatively quickly, while others receive the messages after a certain delay. Putting 26,000 SMS text messages into the queue to be paged out via various cellular systems might overload the telephone system if a majority of the cell phones are located in the vicinity of the college campus.
    I heard reports that cell phone service was disrupted because of high call volume during and after the event.
    Sen. Chuck Schumer complains that cell phone service isn’t reliable during emergencies because high call volume can disable cellular systems.

    Schumer: New Yorkers can’t rely on their cell phones during crises – and cops and firefighters still aren’t first in line to get cell phone service during emergencies.

  14. Chris —
    There would need to be some sort of method to blast messages via several different avenues: Website, TV, radio, SMS, phone calls, etc. The don’t have to be all SMS. Let the 26,000 decide what method of contact they prefer and let the “ghost to ghost” network take over where bad news spreads like wildfire in the community. A few sparks in the right place and everyone will know pretty quickly.
    I think everyone agrees that 2 hour window was Golden Time where people could’ve been alerted with a more serious and blunt warning than the one originally posted 2 hours after the first shots.
    Cops and firefighters should be relying on proprietary emergency channels for communication and not private cellular carriers for crises communiques!

  15. Hi David,
    I think the problem faced in this case was one where nobody expected the second attack after the first. The police seemed to think things were under control and that the shooter had left the area.
    The administration is like any other big bureaucracy. They probably don’t have a way to quickly issue an alert without having a meeting to decide what they should do. Maybe they should have the police issue a “community alert” if conditions warrant it.
    Of course, if too many false alerts are issued (or too many in general) people will start to ignore them.
    From the National Weather Service’s Louisville office:

    (T)here is a delicate balance between issuing the appropriate number of warnings and statements to maximize public response, versus over-warning which could desensitize the public to the alerts we provide.

    The alert would have had to give the information, as well as give directions for people to follow. An early message probably wouldn’t have been a message to seek shelter because nobody perceived that a massacre was a possibility.
    A look at Chicago’s crime map shows a bunch of First Degree Homicides, but I would assume that most perpetrators are single incident sorts who don’t go on random crime sprees afterward. Even with large urban crime numbers, events of that sort seem to be one-time isolated events that pose little risk of a subsequent massacre.
    What happened at Virginia Tech was completely unexpected and unforeseeable.
    If we do make a warning system, we have to be careful that it doesn’t become a perpetual “Yellow Alert” that says that bad things can happen at anytime. Doing that makes people ignore the alert as just a means to CYA in case something bad does happen.

  16. UPDATE on the incident that temporarily locked down my campus today:
    The “suspicious object” the student was carrying was an umbrella.
    I’m having a difficult time figuring out how an umbrella looks suspicious, mainly because it has been raining all day.

  17. Chris!
    I agree we need to be careful, but if shots are confirmed fired on campus, the head of police needs to send out a blast message informing the community and putting the campus into lockdown until the investigation is complete even if it takes all day and all night.
    That way no false alarms are spread and there is transparency in the difficult process of policing.
    VT was in “in process” interviewing the wrong guy when the right guy struck again.

  18. Hi Emily —
    Thanks for that update!
    The only way I can think an umbrella would look dangerous on a rainy day is if it were not open and being used for shelter from the rain — then it might very well look like a rifle in the mist.

  19. First thing first, my sincere condolence for all HOKIE – those who have lost their near and dear ones, those who are still suffering as an aftermath of the deadly incident in history.
    After a careful review of the events, I am trying to put together all the fragments of information:
    Last year, it was known that the killer refused to introduce himself in the first day of British Literature class.
    He put a question mark on the signing sheet instead of his name.
    He refused to participate in the class.
    His Creative Writing showed concrete evidence of “trouble”.
    Recently he set fire in a dorm room, stalked a couple women.
    Two students were killed in a shooting in a dorm room Monday morning.
    No warning or notification was sent out.
    After two hours of the first incident, the killer returned and killed 33 people as well as himself.
    The authorities are post morteming about all possible “what”, “why” and “how”.
    I understand the danger of being proactive and the consequence of violating FERPA, but what and whom are we trying to protect? At the cost of what?

  20. Hi Katha —
    You ask fine questions.
    I wonder if all those pieces of his psychological puzzle were put together by anyone at VT before the shooting and, if so, what was done about it?

  21. This whole thing just makes me sicker and sicker.
    Sick for the Virginia Tech community, sick for the families of the victims, sick for the world we have created and, yes, even sick for the shooter.

  22. I’m with you, Emily. There are no winners here. I’m not sure if there’s enough a goodness in the world to ever fill the void created by this evil with hands on a gun.

  23. Backtracking a bit to a point Chris made earlier:
    “We must also remember that no amount of security will stop someone determined to infiltrate any particular place….On all college campuses, there is always a problem with propped-open security doors (or with people holding doors open for anyone following them into the building).”
    So true. I’m a residence hall director at a small women’s college and it can be tough business getting students–and faculty/staff–to take serious our insistence on safety measures.
    We have security cameras trained on all main entrance doors on each of the residence halls, and male guests have to be escorted at all times. Guests–regardless of gender–are also supposed to wait in the lobby of each hall for their student hostess to pick them up. Card access systems are in place to varying degrees in each of the halls, as well. My own hall is, unfortunately, only secured via card access on one of the side entrances–the main doors are unlocked 24/7, however, there is 24/7-staffed desk in view of the door so that helps a bit.
    Although these safeguards are invaluable, we still have to rely on the human members of the community to keep them intact. And, thanks to the perceived safety of the college and surrounding community, people let things slide. One of the more notable instances we’ve faced in the past few years…a student let an unknown male up into the residential area of a building, thinking she was doing a nice thing (he said he was there to surprise his girlfriend), and he ended up beating/ strangling his ex-girlfriend right there in her dorm room, which is supposed to be a safe haven. The victim was helped immediately, so she’s physically fine now, but this was an extrememly preventable situation.
    On a less intense note, we’re constantly reminding students to keep their dorm room doors locked! It’s such a simple step to take to keep not only yourself, but your belongings, safe and so many students just don’t get it. We have a very safe campus so, generally speaking, you’re okay keeping your door unlocked but I still say it’s an unwise habit to get into. I mean, just last year, I had a resident woken up in the middle of the night because a girl from down the hall had sleep walked into her room! Definitely not a five-alarm situation but still!

  24. Gun control is such a complicated issue, David. But when something like this happens, I have to admit it narrows and sharpens my focus quite a bit.

  25. Thanks for the real-life lessons of the security issues on your campus, Nicole!
    I sometimes think you have to be first bitten before you’re ever aware of the evil around you.
    There isn’t anyone in the NYC area who would not follow strict rules for ID and entering buildings after 9/11. We all lock our everythings now.
    I guarantee you the woman who wrongly let the man in and the woman who was strangled by that man WILL NEVER take any sort of security lightly again and I bet they lock their doors now. They were bitten. They bled — in different ways – but they know there is evil in the world masking itself as goodness and you only fight the evil by banding together and being aware.
    Evil requires kindness and goodness to thrive in the world.
    In many ways I generally think men are born with an evil streak while women are entirely born good. That conflict leads to terrible, bloody, lessons — mostly for the women.
    Those who are lax about security are those who have no idea what it means to be violated. They have no context. They think everyone is as honorable and good as them — but the world will bite them long and hard soon enough because no telling and no forewarning will ever teach them what it feels like to bleed.

  26. Emily —
    My feeling is this about guns: Outlaw handguns and automatic machine guns for common citizens because their only purpose is to kill other people; only allow their purchase and use by the military and the police.
    If you want to protect your family or hunt, use a rifle or a shotgun.
    Long guns are harder to conceal and take a bit more time to reload than a 19-shot 9mm Glock.
    I don’t think the Second Amendment protects any and all guns: You can bear arms in the form of a long gun and still be protected just fine by the amendment.

  27. David,
    My gut feeling said it would be a troubled student when I first heard about the incident yesterday.
    It was not an abrupt episode, as you can figure out from the chain of events that took place in past couple of months.
    I understand you can only suggest someone to seek help if you smell trouble; you can’t make him/her actually do it. You can’t disclose the so called “troubled person’s” information to anyone.
    But sometimes, people are so deeply outraged, either because of a mental disorder or because of some terrible life events that they are unable to realize they need help.
    Unless, help is forced on them.
    I understand it’s not our problem.
    What can we do then?
    Wait till another V Tech happens?
    As far as the V Tech episode goes, there is definitely a communication gap, somewhere. If I am not mistaken, stalking is a serious criminal offence that can lead the culprit to jail.
    Was this incident reported? Was there any consultation with this guy’s academic advisor? Did the academic advisor know about his troubled writing?
    Lots of unanswered questions…

  28. Hi Chris —
    Yes, I expect lots of copycats — including deaths — in the months to come.
    There was a period at NYU and 2003-04 where students were committing suicide by leaping out of their dorm windows and the unprotected upper-floor railings of the library.
    It was an epidemic for awhile where one kid would jump followed by another and another. It was an outbreak. A disease.
    MIT had the same problem.
    The phenomenon is called “cluster suicides” and they are evil and pernicious.
    The NYU library suicide happened when the library was open and students and faculty watched body fall six stories into the lobby. Gruesome.

  29. Hi Katha —
    I agree there were lots of signals that were missed and some that were caught — but once you have an inkling of trouble — what can you do unless and until the person in question actually acts out?
    I guess we just have to cross our fingers and hope the first untoward act isn’t one with a loaded handgun aimed at other people.

  30. David,
    I think you are on the right track.
    Certain kinds of knives are illegal, right? Perhaps we should do the same with guns, but to a much more stringent degree.
    I do own a shotgun and would absolutely use it without hesitation to protect myself and others. The thought of carrying a concealed handgun, however, has never appealed to me.
    “Those who are lax about security are those who have no idea what it means to be violated. They have no context. They think everyone is as honorable and good as them — but the world will bite them long and hard soon enough because no telling and no forewarning will ever teach them what it feels like to bleed.”
    Beautifully, perfectly said, David.

  31. Hi Emily —
    I understand how just showing a loaded shotgun — and how chambering the shells — can be enough to ward off evil. If the hint isn’t taken, then a shotgun can do a lot of protecting in one blow if someone comes through a window or a door.
    Handguns, however, are made to be concealed and to surprise and guns should always be out in the open. Why secret them unless you have a hidden agenda? The cops and the military strut their guns in the open. Why should common citizens be allowed to conceal and carry unless they think they’ll need to use the firepower against someone else as a “gotcha!”
    Bleeding is a lesson you never forget, Emily, and I know you know that on a level few of us will ever experience — but it is those who have never bled, but who claim to know what it’s like, or how much it hurts, that damages us all when they are in positions of power because there are so unaware of their duplicity and fakery and how their ignorant values are bred and propagated into the world in many evil ways.

  32. David,
    You are right. That sound, that purely chilling sound of the shells loading in the chamber, can sometimes be enough for a criminal to change his mind about his intentions. If not…he was warned.
    You have brought up a very valid argument regarding the concealment of weapons that I’ve not previously considered. If your intentions with your weapon are not evil, why do you need to conceal it? Do you think all weapons should be clearly seen or just guns?

  33. Hi Katha!
    Yep! You were Akismet caught again! Thanks for letting me know.
    Your links do demonstrate the problem. I’m not sure how we get around the idea of innocent until proven guilty when it comes to acts of the mind and violence of intent that are expressed through appropriate channels like creative writing instead of at the end of a gun barrel.

  34. Hi Emily —
    Yes, the sound of a shotgun has a bigger bark than any ole dog! 😀
    I think all weapons that are created and sold with the intention to kill other people should be visible at all times.
    I don’t think pocketknives or Leatherman-like tools with blades under 3″ should count because they really can’t do much efficient killing and are really just celebrated box openers and screw tighteners.
    Work tools like screwdrivers and saws should not count.
    Axes are had to conceal anyway…

  35. David,
    I worked in student affairs, with at-risk high school students and most of the time it is through creative writing you try to figure out what’s going on in their personal lives. Most of the time it works. People express their darkest psrt of life through writing.
    I wonder if that Korean guy was voilated in some ways or it might just be a case of sheer outrage caused by mental disorder. But definitely there was evidence.
    I am sad that the law doesn’t allow you to do anything even if you can sense it.

  36. Hi Katha —
    Creative writing can be a fine outlet for rage and disappointment.
    I don’t think we’ll ever know why he pulled the trigger so many times. People will pretend to know, but only he knows.
    I’m glad we require proof of behavior and action before taking action. Otherwise we’d live in a state of “feelings” and “probably will” instead of laws and deeds. The risk we take for that freedom of mind and body is the bloodshed of innocent lives for that greater good.

  37. You were caught, again, Katha! Did you go to the website I gave you last week to make a report?
    I know there were alarms set off about the shooter, Katha, and the police investigated long before he erupted and didn’t find any reason to arrest him or take him in for psychiatric evaluation.

  38. David,
    That’s the point I am trying to make.
    This guy needed intervention, help, constant monitoring – nobody could offer that to him because the law doesn’t allow it unless the guy willingly asks for help. What if the affected person refuses any help, as this guy did? A professor said his writing was “gruesome, very adolescent, silly” – don’t you want to know why? Can’t you do something about it? You probably could if he was a minor. What to do in case of an adult? Except extreme helplessness?
    Oh yes, I reported it last week – I think it’s because of the MSNBC link.

  39. I’m glad you reported it, Katha, thanks! I don’t think it’s the MSNBC links. We use them often here. It’s most likely your IP address that needs to be cleared.
    I understand there’s a problem with reporting and identification of troubled people, but I still don’t know how to prove they are menacing beyond an inkling or a wondering. We don’t lock people up based on suspicion alone.

    No, I do not believe the tombstone is replacing the diploma in America.
    The Virginia Tech murders are the product of one sick individual. Violence is part of our society, but is has been for centuries. To those that say violent video games contribute, I would argue a resounding “No.”
    For decades, we have had violent movies, before that violent acts. The undercurrent of our society rides on violence. Has violence escalated in recent years? Yes, but I do not believe that we can blame it on video games and violent movies.
    Violence is a product of poverty, those in desolation wanting what they are denied, and those willing to step outside the laws of society to take what they want. This “want” stems from many sources: drugs, culture and a desire for immediate gratification, among other things. Sometimes, as in the case of the Virginia Tech murders, the “want” comes from a deranged individual.
    Could Virginia Tech have prevented the violence? Maybe they could have taken some steps to secure the campus earlier, but I do not think this would have prevented Cho from blasting away, anymore than I believe the terrorists who masterminded 911 would have been stopped if more security measures were in place. (It is less likely now that a 911 would take place, but the security measures established by Bush only give us more comfort, not any guarantee.)
    Once, a detective told me after I had a break-in, that if someone really wanted to rob me, they would. Yes, there were certain precautions I could take, but there was never a 100% assurance i would not be hit again.
    We live in a society where evil exists. We have to find a way to try to overcome or deal with it, through good common sense, education, legislation and, in the case of our psychological needs, a spiritual solution.
    We cannot sacrifice our freedom, though, by enacting harsh or narrowly restrictive laws.
    Meanwhile, pursue the good in life. Education is meaningful. Many of those interviewed at Virginia Tech would not be dissuaded by the trajedy. They maintained a positive attitude in the face of pain and death.
    Sometimes, we get the curve ball. We can try to get that base hit, or wimp out and take it to the bench.
    The diploma is worthwhile. Long live the diploma!

  41. Hi Donna —
    It doesn’t make sense to me that violent video games don’t create anger and aggression and desensitization to cruelty and killing beyond the game because — unlike the passive experience of a violent movie or watching violence in the home or on the street — video game violence requires your acquiescence to the killing via interaction and proactive decision-making in the gameplay.
    If you are prone to violence a violent video can expose that tenderness and provide a path for exploration and interpretation.
    I do not believe there is a psychic minimalization of a murder spree in the mind between a fantasy killing and a real life killing and that’s part of the problem: Video games blur the line between what is right, real, wrong, deadly and appropriate.
    You can choose your method of murder and then practice your skill at killing.

    Myths and Facts
    Myth 1. Violent video game research has yielded very mixed results.
    Facts: Some studies have yielded nonsignificant video game effects, just as some smoking studies failed to find a significant link to lung cancer. But when one combines all relevant empirical studies using meta-analytic techniques, five separate effects emerge with considerable consistency. Violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behavior. Average effect sizes for experimental studies (which help establish causality) and correlational studies (which allow examination of serious violent behavior) appear comparable (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).

  42. Hi David,
    I respectfully disagree.
    One can sit in a movie theatre and psychologically interact with the character in the movie without the physical interaction of an X-box. It’s called fantasy.
    While violent video games may not be appropriate for very young teens (any more than R-rated movies are appropriate) I believe that they are not going to prompt Virginia Tech massacres. Jeffrey Dalmer would be Jeffrey Dalmer with or without Doom III.
    I believe violence of that nature is the result of psychopathic and/or sociopathic behavior that would manifest itself regardless of visual stimulation. Ban all violent video games and no Columbine or Virginia Tech? Can’t buy it.

  43. David,
    I didn’t talk about locking people up.
    There has to be a better and human way for intervention.
    I can see my students exressing his extreme rage, but I can’t intervene. I can’t take him to a professional help. I can see my roommate’s serious isolation – but I just have to be a spectator. I know my classmate is a “question mark kid” – still I can’t do anything.
    I am talking about this helpleness.
    I am not criticizing the law. I am questioning it to find a solution.

  44. For those who are prone to violence, Donna, video games enhance that desire and feed the beast.
    Violent video games are much more than just visual stimulation. They affect perception, create high blood pressure and the fight or flee response. You play them to achieve a full-body high. You don’t use intentional muscle manipulation in the passive watching of a violent movie.
    Here are some additional scholarly resources arguing the negative influence violent video games have on behavior:

    Video games have become one of the favorite activities of American children. A growing body of research is linking violent video game play to aggressive cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors. The first goal of this study was to document the video games habits of adolescents and the level of parental monitoring of adolescent video game use. The second goal was to examine associations among violent video game exposure, hostility, arguments with teachers, school grades, and physical fights. In addition, path analyses were conducted to test mediational pathways from video game habits to outcomes. Six hundred and seven 8th- and 9th-grade students from four schools participated. Adolescents who expose themselves to greater amounts of video game violence were more hostile, reported getting into arguments with eachers more frequently, were more likely to be involved in physical fights, and performed more poorly in school. Mediational pathways were found such that hostility mediated the relationship between violent video game exposure and outcomes. Results are interpreted within and support the framework of the General Aggression Model.

    Research has shown that exposure to violent video games causes increases in aggression, but the mechanisms of this effect have remained elusive. Also, potential differences in short-term and long-term exposure are not well understood. An initial correlational study shows that video game violence exposure (VVE) is positively correlated with self-reports of aggressive behavior and that this relation is robust to controlling for multiple aspects of personality. A lab experiment showed that individuals low in VVE behave more aggressively after playing a violent video game than after a nonviolent game but that those high in VVE display relatively high levels of aggression regardless of game content. Mediational analyses show that trait hostility, empathy, and hostile perceptions partially account for the VVE effect on aggression. These findings suggest that repeated exposure to video game violence increases aggressive behavior in part via changes in cognitive and personality factors associated with desensitization.

  45. Hi Katha —
    I understand what you’re arguing but I don’t see any solution to what you are proposing without making major changes in the law. We already know voluntary submission to the process is inaccurate and unreliable at best.

  46. Gah! I think my trigger finger clicked the Akismet bin and lost your comment, Chris!
    Can you repost your thought? Then we need you to use the new reporting tool to get this love affair with the Spam queue stopped! 😀

  47. MSNBC is reporting that the VA Tech killer was an expert at the video game “Counter Strike.”
    “Counter Strike,” for those who may not know, is a violent video game that trains you to be a killer with a gun. The U.S. military uses the game to train their soldiers because is is so real and life-like.
    One of the main things the game does is train to you be calm when killing. The idea is to keep your heart rate below 60 beats per minute.
    One young Canadian mass murderer — the Dawson College Killer — “learned how to kill” by playing the online game “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!”
    If you haven’t played these violent shooting Xbox/PS3 games in high res — then you really have no clue how real these games are as they teach the player the best and most efficient way to kill.

  48. Hi David,
    I should put some RFID tags on my posts so they don’t get lost. 😉
    I was listening to the radio earlier today and there were two thoughts that caught my attention.
    1. Should students be taught strategies in how to deal with school attackers. Some suggest that “mass chaos” — for example, many people throwing books and chairs at an attacker — can result in the attacker being thrown off balance and ultimately subdued. The argument goes that attackers expect people to be passive at school and having a counter-reaction might buy valuable time while police and other people are in route.
    2. That people need to learn survival strategies. A simple one that is easily overlooked is “combat” or “belly” breathing during times of stress so that one doesn’t pass out or otherwise become incapable of assessing and formulating a response to a sudden and unexpected life-threatening event.
    Police train their officers to “combat” breath so that they don’t lose their ability to function while pursuing subjects.

    An officer’s worst enemy in a code three run or pursuit is an adrenaline overload. The speed, the sound of the siren blaring, and the desire for apprehension can cause an officer’s adrenaline level to soar.
    Once the huge adrenaline dump occurs, things can go from bad to worse. Tunnel vision and/or target fixation can set in. Fine and complex motor skills diminish, and short term memory (the creative/reasoning part of the brain) can be severely hindered, leaving an officer with nothing more than long term memory and primal, emotional instincts to operate with. …
    An officer is going to need this (breathing) technique the most, when his adrenaline and the events of the moment are overloading his short-term memory with information vital to his survival.

  49. Hi David,
    It’s interesting that killers are learning “combat breathing” by playing Counter Strike. I didn’t realize that until after I had posted my comment.

  50. Chris!
    Yes, RFID for anti-Akismet false-positives would be a good idea! 😀
    I don’t know if training students for combat would’ve worked. The guy was fast and efficient. How do you train teenagers to proactively respond after seeing the heads of their coursemates splattered over their desk?
    One report said in the first room where most of the classroom killing was done only one woman screamed — after the killer left the room. Everyone else just sat there, stunned and unspeaking at the bending of time and the shifting of reality.
    That kind of breathing technique is a good way to keep your head in a heated moment.
    If you read the link to the Dawson killer — you’ll see there is certainly a connection to violence and video games in society. These games teach kids how to pull the trigger and get a response of death — you train the weapon on the head of your victim — and how to choose a weapon and how to kill quickly and efficiently without emotion but with lots of preplanning of routes and human targets.

  51. Chris —
    If Akismet catches you again, Mark instructed us to go to: and fill out the form and copy and paste in the comment that was caught and the URL of the article where the comment is supposed to appear. I guess that’s a more direct line method for troubleshooting than going through our Feedback interface.

  52. Hi David,
    I don’t think we would have thought that we’d have to treat people how to react to these types of situations in the past, but the new post VT reality is that a certain level of preparedness training might be good for all citizens who might be caught in these situations.
    At the minimum, people should think about what they might do if they were caught in a situation where there was mass chaos so that they don’t have to formulate a plan when something bad happens.
    It would be similar to telling people how to steer out of a skid before it happens so that when it does happen the mind can automatically pull that piece of information out of the memory bank and use it. When something like this incident happens, there might only be a few seconds or minutes to think about escaping the area or teaming up with others to fight back if cornered.
    I remember seeing a Dateline-type show where they showed drill at a high school simulating an attack. People were running into each other, running toward the “attacker”, and doing all sorts of things that put them into harm’s way. The biggest thing was a sense that it was everybody for themselves, when a couple of people coordinated against a single threat might be able to turn the odds to let more people escape — even without firearms. Having thought ahead of time might reduce some of the confusion and give people a way to think about escaping instead of freezing in place or making deadly mistakes.

  53. You’re right, Chris. We all need to be more aware. We all need to think ahead. It may be my INTJ personality that was not taking your point because every time I walk into a room I look for a secondary exit, I look out the windows to orient myself and I position myself with a clear view of the main entrance so I am ready for anything that comes my way… I realize not everyone thinks as I do…
    It would have been effective if everyone in the room had thrown their books at the shooter or even picked up their chairs/desks and thrown them all at the guy!
    That kind of counter-attack does take forethought and coordination and I’m not sure if, as a teacher, once should bring up the matter on the first day of class and say, “If someone enters our classroom with a gun or a weapon to threaten us, pick up your chairs and throw! I’ll go first if I can so you’ll know when it’s okay to pick up your chair… and if I go down first, you’ll know what to do…”
    Does that kind of discussion make students feel more secure or more scared?

  54. UPDATE:
    Here is NYU’s new planned emergency response in light of the VT shootings:

    Monday’s shootings highlight the importance of timely, accurate and effective communications during a campus emergency. You should be aware of the mechanisms which serve our campus – the email direct system, our info.alert website (, and messaging through NYU Home. Another indispensable source of information for you in an emergency – for instance, whether to remain in a building or evacuate it – is our security officers. They are connected via a two-way radio system, and in times of emergency, they will receive up-to-the-minute information and instructions at their posts or on patrol; you should heed their instructions and advice.
    For some time, we have been looking at new opportunities for rapid communication in response to the proliferation of cell phones, mechanisms that would allow us to send blast text messages to the NYU community in an emergency. Last week, the University’s Director of Emergency Management discussed this at an Inter Residence Hall Council meeting, and the concept was well received.
    The University will be testing such a system in the next few weeks. We already have some 17,000 student cell phone numbers in our system. We urge students who have not already registered their cell phone information on “Albert” to do so; it can make a vital difference in an emergency. Employees should furnish cell phone information to the HR representatives in their units, who will soon be able to enter it into the Human Resources Information System.

  55. Hi David,
    I assume most people aren’t necessarily situationally aware because they don’t need to be in modern American society. The problem comes when something happens and it is up to the individual to figure out what to do without any guidance or instruction from an authority figure.
    This is where some advance planning might come into play — maybe as a general self-defense instruction. The training could come early in school life in age appropriate lessons that don’t scare, but empower the students.
    I think we may come to a point in our society where will will either have to start locking up people when they initially cause problems — such as stalking and exhibiting serious symptoms of being mentally ill — because it always seems that people take a certain period of time to “wind up” before they unleash their attacks.
    Cho had many contacts with the campus police for bothering women and was even sent before a judge for a mental evaluation, but it wasn’t enough to get him placed into a program that might have been able to help resolve his issues.
    Having a population that has been given some self-defense training would be a good thing. The training might be effective at reducing other forms of violence against students and others when they are out and about in society.

  56. As a person who worked professionally in the fields of psychology and sociology and possess a degree in both fields, I feel the need to appropriately correct the assertations being taken on video games and other activities that create aggression. I dislike people who take the Jack Thompson route of blaming the most convenient scapegoat for problems in society.
    According to APA (American Psychological Association) research, violent video games are not any greater a cause factor in violence than any other violent or aggressive activity. Now, aggressive behavior combined with various other conditions – such as medical or psychological issues, abuse, bad parenting, depression, etc. – can cause violent behavior.
    Aggressive behavior is easily caused by various activities, including athletics (football, soccer, karate, etc.) and driving, for example, and not just video games. The problem with aggressive behavior is more of an educational one – do you teach your children and others how to deal with aggressive feelings appropriately? Also, you as a parent can limit your child’s aggressive behavior by monitoring their activities and teaching them proper skills to address issues that arise from aggression.
    Furthermore, do we educate people we think have issues with violence or aggression? Studies show that most people ignore or lightly inform people of their inappropriate behavior. People also avoid issues that make them uncomfortable. Aggressive people tend to make other people uncomfortable. The amount of help advertised and offered in the communities around this country are often very low. We as a society should be taking greater steps to recognize and address potential people with issues.
    In this case, the shooter appears to have suffered from a mental illness not properly addressed. Rarely do people with mental disorders cope well with aggressive feelings and a need for violence. This individual snapped after some event that unbalanced his emotional state. This break with reality caused him to shoot two people, calmly move across campus, and shoot 31 other people. I think had he had a shotgun or a handgun would have made no difference at this point – he was determined and ready to act.
    Blaming the aggressive behavior of this individual on video games is another attempt to evade placing responsibility on any particular party involved. He could have just as well been playing football, and had issues with his aggression. I place the blame on the person doing the shooting. He knew he was having issues, others advised him to seek proper counseling, and he even understood the situation he was about to enter by sending materials to NBC in the hopes of gaining attention. Video games are really just a scapegoat when these things happen.
    I won’t go into the gun control argument because I neither own a gun or want to own a gun, so I have nothing invested in that argument.

  57. This gentleman just had many of his studies and findings published in recent APA journals on the considerations of linking violence in video games to violence in society.
    His biggest topic point is that while violence in video games does lead to aggression in children, more than 90% of the children correctly educated to handle their aggression and feelings were able to disassociate the violence seen in video games from reality. The ones not given proper education and/or having parental supervision showed marginal to moderate aggressive behavior, such as failing to obey a command or being rough with other players.
    They also did several studies in sports where aggressive behavior spilled over into regular situations and students acted violently to other students. There’s been studies where drivers who entered situations that required aggressive responses carried over their aggression into situations that caused them to be violent to other people. There’s instances of listening to certain types of music causing aggression and thus violence.
    Now, desensitization of repeated exposure to violence is something that might be problematic. But that also falls under the responsibility of the parent to try and monitor their children’s exposure and educate them correctly about what they watch/do.

  58. What is your real name and background in psychology, mcclaud?
    When people come here claiming to be experts, we like to know who they are and their publication record in the area in which their reputations have been rendered.
    We both used the same APA link to prove opposite points.
    Your blog says you are “System Administrator for a major information processing company.” I’m not seeing the link between your job, your diplomas and your expertise on the matter of violence and video games.
    As a Public Health educator, I am well aware there is a researched and provable link between violent video games and aggressive behavior and here’s an updated article from Craig Anderson — the same researcher we both linked — that demonstrates the relationship between video game violence and aggression:

    This article presents a brief overview of existing research on the effects of exposure to violent video games. An updated meta-analysis reveals that exposure to violent video games is significantly linked to increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, and cardiovascular arousal, and to decreases in helping behaviour. Experimental studies reveal this linkage to be causal. Correlational studies reveal a linkage to serious, real-world types of aggression. Methodologically weaker studies yielded smaller effect sizes than methodologically stronger studies, suggesting that previous meta-analytic studies of violent video games underestimate the true magnitude of observed deleterious effects on behaviour, cognition, and affect.

    Here’s even more research evidence of my argument:

    The effects of exposure to violent video games on automatic associations with the self were investigated in a sample of 121 students. Playing the violent video game Doom led participants to associate themselves with aggressive traits and actions on the Implicit Association Test. In addition, self-reported prior exposure to violent video games predicted automatic aggressive self-concept, above and beyond self-reported aggression. Results suggest that playing violent video games can lead to the automatic learning of aggressive self-views.

  59. Chris!
    Yes, your arguments are sound and make sense. Sure, we can lock up people who threaten — but for how long? There needs to be a scope of protection and purpose and resolution before we let them out again and that can be a long and tedious process.

  60. I’m not one for giving out personal info on any open Internet medium. But I will indulge your experience query – my work in psychology and sociology both goes back to my time in the military working as an acting First Sergeant (I was actually a Warrant Officer) and working with children in youth hospitals in Oklahoma City. Before that, I received two associate degrees in psychology, both for counseling and research studies. At some point in my life, I decided to work on computers, because I love computers. I didn’t completely abandon my original majors, though. I still receive several APA journals quarterly (I enjoy reading about cognative science and keeping up with clinical studies).
    I’m not saying that violent video games don’t lead to aggressive behavior. What I am saying is ASIDE from those associations, what Craig Anderson and several other APA published research has proven is that the breakdown that causes violence in people who have aggressive tendencies and indulge in aggressive activity is actually the lack of their ability to control themselves due to proper education and care. Video games is only one of hundreds of activities that people can engage in that lead to feelings of elevated aggression and hostility. A lot of responsibility goes to the parents and counselors to help combat aggression.
    Several things contribute to this shooting:
    1. The shooter wasn’t mentally stable to begin with. He had a background of mental problems that go far beyond playing Counterstrike.
    2. There are several indications that the young man was advised, ordered and processed for mental illness. In this case, the system then decided he was only a danger to himself and let him go back to school.
    3. Despite increased reports of his problematic behavior and attitude, no one knew what to do to help him. All efforts to help were either ignored or failed.
    Part of the problem we have as society is that we do not know how to handle people with mental issues. Professionals may have several treatment options, and a better capability to assess and label issues. But the public at large does not. Our emergency services even lack real training for people who have made the mental break. The best response some police training gives you is “taser the subject into submission.” Students and teachers did try to connect with the shooter and help him – but they had no idea how to do it.
    Going forward, it may be in the state of Virginia’s best interest to accept some responsibility for these issues and start forming some adequate mental health directives, and introducing some training on how to identify and help students with these issues. We, as individuals, probably could help ourselves and others by educating ourselves on what the proper procedures are to identify and advise people we see with possible issues. Raising public awareness about mental disorders would be a great way to combat future problems.
    Let’s not uncomfortably ignore these people. Let’s try to be aware and knowledgable on how to help them.

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