Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Learn From Tragedy

The shootings that took place on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg Virginia can only be described as awful. More than 50 people fell victim to what we can only describe as a deranged shooter and 33 people, including that shooter, ended up dead.

Leave it to the news reporters, particularly the talking heads on the networks, to guide the story into the realm of blame. With the shooter dead by his own volition, we don't have an object to project our outrage upon so the press has opted to question the actions of the university, the police and gun control laws.

Over the coming weeks we'll see the police second guessed for failing to lock down the sprawling campus. University administrators will be condemned for not beefing up security measures. Government officials will be questioned on what they are doing to protect our universities from such a terror and of course we'll have to bang on the gun control drum again. In fact much of this has already happened. Deep down inside we know that the only person to blame for this tragedy is the shooter. Life isn't safe. Bad things happen to innocent people every day. We're all going to die and not all of us by natural causes.

If we're going to start doling out blame we need to be fair. Instead of asking the campus police why they didn't lock down the campus after what appeared to be an isolated shooting we should be asking why so many people allowed themselves to become victims. Ultimately our survival depends on our abilities as individuals and as individuals we must be ready to take action to defend ourselves against those who would do us harm.

Granted this was a man who was well-armed, not a terrorist with a box cutter but still at some point you have to realize that this guy is shooting everybody in sight. We all have that fight or flight chip imbedded in our programming as does every other animal on the face of the earth. When confronted by a superior foe every living thing has the innate desire to run but if the option of fleeing has been removed the tiniest animal will bare its teeth and fight to survive.

Humans have that instinct but we program ourselves to resist it. For years the so-called experts have told us to cooperate with bad guys and wait for help to arrive. The problem is that those bad guys don't tend to follow the same rules. Women have been encouraged to resist attackers who intend to rape them because FBI studies reveal that every second of resistance increases the chances of survival by 30%. Law enforcement officials have revised their advice to potential victims. Instead of cooperating and remaining calm, people are being instructed to scream, fight or run like hell because too many cooperating victims have been rewarded with a bullet in the face. Your chances are better if you fight back.

What happened at Virginia Tech was not a rape or a mugging. This was a madman on a suicide mission, but at some point you have to realize that your best chance of surviving is to fight back. Nearly 60 people took a bullet and many more rounds were fired. At some point this shooter had to stop and reload. Why didn't somebody charge him as he changed out clips?

Maybe it's not fair to second guess the victims. Most of us would be paralyzed with fear if we faced a similar situation, but that's exactly the problem. Instead of preparing ourselves for defense we want to rely on security officers and policemen to save us from the bad men. We program ourselves to be victims hoping that we can endure being victimized long enough for a hero to rescue us.

It's time for that mentality to go. Whenever something like this happens we are soon regaled with stories of how woefully unprepared our security forces, be they police officers or unarmed security guards, are to handle such a situation. The fact of the matter is that most police are better equipped to write traffic tickets. Even though they receive training there just aren't enough opportunities to put that training to work on a daily basis. It's not that the police are incompetent; we simply set our expectations too high. Most cops aren't superheroes.

It's not practical to have a sniper hiding in every closet waiting for a rogue gunman to show up. We can't have an armed Air Marshall on every flight because some fundamentalist might try to set his shoe on fire. There's no feasible way to eliminate every dangerous situation so we have to accept risk and prepare ourselves to take ownership of our own survival.

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