Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech

Another sad week for our country as we try to make sense of yet another instance of a disturbed man with access to weapons bringing his twisted version of revenge on the world to fruition and taking innocentl lives in the process. Interestingly, the main point of discussion seems to have quickly moved from "why did this happen and how can we prevent it from happening again?" to "how should the media cover these events, and was all of the coverage this time, particularly the taped rantings of the perpetrator appearing on TV, appropriate?"

I do think how these things are covered is important, as is the question of whether those tapes should have been aired, and I see the difficulty faced by networks who want to give the people what they want and know that people will tune in in droves searching for the latest information but find themselves with air to fill and nothing new to report. These kinds of events are the bread and butter of networks like CNN, and we can argue that people should be paying as much attention to the kids dying over in Iraq till we're blue in the face, but we all know that if, during a week like this one, MSNBC or CNN decides to cut away from Virginia Tech coverage, however repetitive, to do a story about our troops in the Middle East, most people are going to change the change the channel. It sucks, but that's the reality.

Much more important in my opinion than how the media covers these stories is the fact that they happen at all. Today is the eighth anniversary of the Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colorado; yesterday was the twelfth anniversary of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. One thing has clearly not changed in twelve years: our culture has not stopped producing angry, disturbed young men who believe violence and death are the price the world has to pay for their rage.

I don't know if there's any way to weed them out before they do these things. It seems, every time another one of these tragedies occurs, that there were many signs that these situations were brewing, that these young men had told people around them, either explicitly or through writings, drawings or actions, that they were time bombs waiting to go off. Occasionally we do hear a story where things went the other way -- where the friend a potential shooter confided in tells someone in time to stop the shootings from happening. But that clearly isn't happening often enough. So many times, people are too frightened to take the warning signs seriously, or there isn't more they can do than to suggest a student visit the campus counseling center.

So what can we do? Well, to me it seems like a no-brainer to limit the access of guns, but apparently this is something that will never happen here because the NRA is the most powerful lobby in America, more powerful than the reality of the bodies of dead sons and daughters being removed from a high school, an Amish school house, a university building, or a middle school. In Virginia, it was apparently more important for citizens to have the right to buy one gun per month (how many months does it take to assemble an arsenal?) than it was to make sure a college student who had never committed a felony but who had been involuntarily committed wouldn't be allowed to buy two handguns and fifty rounds of ammunition. And in the Oval Office, someone decided the first order of business in responding to this situation was to appease the gun lobby by affirming the president's support of the unlimited right to bear arms, and that he could express his sympathy to the victim's families later. Is this the country you want to live in?

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