These were Latin American journalists here on a program sponsored by the State Department and the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at Oklahoma University. Several of them were from places like Medellin and face the possibility of murder every time they leave their offices to cover a story - and sometimes don't even have to leave the office.
Because I hadn't turned on the TV all day, I hadn't heard anything about the mass murder at Virginia Tech. I had volunteered to drive the journalists, so we were having lunch at the Daily Oklahoman when the subject of journalistic coverage of human carnage "like what just happened in Virginia" came up.
Since then I've learned more than I cared to know about the evil bastard who did it. Turns out - no surprises. Everyone who knew him thought he was perfectly capable of doing this thing, and no one was really surprised that he did. He nonetheless had neither been arrested nor expelled for stalking, vandalism, arson, threatening or intimidating and thus passed the background check to buy firearms.
The "experts" medicalized his behavior then and even now. The craven administration of VT wouldn't - and won't, allow students to possess the means of self-defense on campus, nor would they kick an obvious scary psycho off it.
Debate rages about the ethics and practicality of showing the creepy video testament he mailed to NBC. Me... while I think they are porno-pimps for doing it, I say do it anyway. Let our people look into the face of evil. We need to, we've forgotten that evil exists, that there are people out there who hate you for nothing you've done to them but for what you are - happy.
Will it inspire copycats? Probably, evil is notably unoriginal.
Two names stand out with honor amidst this horror, Liviu Librescu and Nikki Giovanni. Professor Librescu barred the door to his classroom with his own body and bought with his life enough time for some of his students to escape. Professor Giovanni was the one teacher who had the murderer in her class who would not tolerate his threatening behaviour and kicked him out - and had to threaten to resign to do it. In a better world, they would make her president of the university.
Professor Librescu was a holocaust survivor, he recognized evil at once and knew what to do. Professor Giovanni was a teacher of poetry, which I also find highly significant but I'll leave it to you to consider why.
I hope I get to meet Professor Giovanni some day. I am almost unbearably sad that I will never get to meet Professor Librescu.
We've again had our noses rubbed in the fact that this happens. What I'd like to address now though is, what to do about it - and I mean you and me.
Don't be a victim.
Easier said than done, no? None of the dead at Virginia Tech intended to be a victim when they went off to college.
And I don't mean anything as simplistic as "buy a gun". Unless your life is such that the risk factors are considerably higher than that of the average college student, it could be more trouble than it's worth. (If you're male that is - like a lot of things we aren't supposed to talk about, it's different for women.)
The smallest, most portable handgun is still a pain in the ass to carry, and when you make the decision to live with a weapon you must live with a weapon. And I mean 24/7. A handgun is not something you accessorize with. A gun is only one possibility out of a whole range of strategies and preparations which must be considered when assessing your particular situation, and not even the most important one in any case.
What I mean is that you must educate yourself in non-victimhood. The three possible responses to the threat of violence, in rough order of desirability are:
1) Avoid it
2) Run away successfully
3) Fight back successfully
Excuse me, there is a fouth: die - or perhaps worse.
Number 1 is the most desirable, but we've seen that it's not always possible. Evil men determined to wreak horror will seek out victims, they will not just lie in wait for them.
Number 2 may or may not be possible, and furthermore there might be potential victims you could not bear to leave behind. Number 3 depends on how ready you are for that eventuality, and sometimes a lot of dumb luck.
Point being, whatever course of action you might choose, you must be ready to make the correct decision quickly and act on it.
I am a martial arts instructor and familiar with firearms, and will have more to say about training in the future, but I am not a professional security expert. Instead I will point you towards these individuals who are.
The first stop for educating yourself on the subject of self-defense in the broadest sense, is here http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/ the most comprehensive source of information in one place, by Marc "Animal" MacYoung. Get a cup of coffee, there is a LOT of information here, but very well-organized.
Next stop here: Masaad Ayoob http://www.ayoob.com/ one of the foremost firearms/ self-defense experts will give you several excellent reasons why you might not want to get a gun, and if you do, wise advice about the capabilities, responsibilities and limitations of gun ownership.
I would just add two things: if you don't want a gun in your house, car or on your person, or if the legal environment makes it an unreasonable risk, nonetheless you should familiarize yourself with guns and what they can do. Get your gun nut friend to take you shooting, even if only once. And if the range permits, shoot something other than paper targets such as bottles of water or melons. That gives you at least a rough idea of what bullets do inside flesh (80% water, remember).
Secondly, some of the best advice I've read about having guns in a house with children came, oddly enough, from Ms Magazine many years ago (in an article about security for the single mom). They said, let your small child fire the gun, with your arms wrapped around them and your hands around theirs on the gun. The idea is to let them experience how it kicks and how loud it is and they'll be less likely to consider it a toy. In other words - terrify them.
That and this piece of gun lore I intend to pass on to my kids. If mine want to take up shooting some day, I will encourage them and find a range that caters to young people. BUT - the first day they start shooting real guns is the last day they play with toy guns, "Bang bang you're dead" "Am not!" "Are too!'
* I commented on a previous mass murder (the Amish killings) with speculations on motive here http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/10/amish-tragedy.html