There has been vast amount of text written about the Virginia Tech shootings. What I write is but a drop in the bucket, but I’m going to weigh in anyway. The most predictable angle for me to take is about the gun control implications of the incident; this, however, would be a waste of time, because this incident doesn’t tell us anything particularly interesting about the gun control argument. One of the killer’s weapons was a Walther .22 caliber pistol, which is about as far from an “assault weapon” as one can get.
Rather, the subject that’s been on my mind since the news broke was that of personal preparedness. Two factors worked in the killer’s favor to ensure that his body count was as high as possible: the killer’s tactics and preparation, and the relative passivity of the student body. The first factor is out of anyone’s control – by all accounts, the killer plotted his operation with great precision, and his preparation would have given him a tactical advantage even against a more wary population.
The second factor, however, is within an individual’s control and is crucial to survival in any contingency, whether it’s a car accident or a rampaging shooter. That factor is a mindset that favors action over passivity, motion over inertia, resistance rather than compliance. Many have asked whether a charge at the killer (by one or several people) would have stopped him, thus reducing the scale of the carnage. Some might say that charging headlong into an armed attacker is foolhardy, but if there’s a killer methodically executing people in an enclosed space, I’d prefer to at least make an attempt to stop him, rather than lying there waiting to die. Obviously, this doesn’t apply if the attacker has achieved complete surprise – if you’re sitting in physics class and he opens the door and shoots you in the back of the head, you’re not going to have many courses of action available to you. But otherwise, the course of action seems clear: do something, anything – because doing nothing is also a choice, and in these situations, it seems always to be the wrong one. Maybe it’s platitudinous, but I’d rather die standing up than laying down. Better to get shot in the face than in the back. If you’re going down anyway, why make it any easier for the attacker?
Taking action doesn’t need to be a headlong charge into blazing guns – defensive actions are appropriate, if that option is available. For examples, see the students who barred the door to their classroom, or the professor who did the same and paid with his life.
Another facet of the preparedness angle is the ineffectiveness of the police. Police forces are mostly prophylactic in nature; they provide deterrence to crime, but their ability to stop an event in progress is quite limited. The fact is, when the proverbial shit hits the fan, the police aren’t going to be there to help you. When a crazed guy with a brace of pistols walks in to your classroom and starts shooting, no cop is going to be able to stop him. It’s a logistical impossibility – there aren’t enough cops to go around.
I’ll avoid the questions of concealed carry, “gun-free zones,” and the like – anyone who knows me knows what my ideas are on those issues, and those who don’t, aren’t going to care. The most important weapon at your disposal in emergency situations is mindset: a mindset that favors decisive action and personal survival, as well as a state of awareness that allows you to make quick decisions with available information.