What can we do?

It’s been a little over a week now since the massacre at Virginia Tech. Classes resumed there on Monday. A crowd of over 3,000 turned out to watch the school’s baseball team play Miami last Friday. Flags have been raised from half staff.

It’s been a little over a week now since the massacre at Virginia Tech.

Classes resumed there on Monday. A crowd of over 3,000 turned out to watch the school’s baseball team play Miami last Friday. Flags have been raised from half staff.

News websites continue to run related stories to the massacre in their headlines. Colleges from coast to coast assure their students that safety measures are in place to protect them. Many on the social networking site Facebook are changing their profile pictures to an image of a ribbon behind the VT logo. Memorials for the dead are being held, as are funeral services.

And tongues continue to wag over the issues this tragedy has brought to the table, as they did from the moment the news broke, and as they will for a long time. As a confused and darkened nation digests what has happened, we ask ourselves questions with never-ending amounts of answers: “Why did this happen?” “How could it have been prevented?” And perhaps the most important one, “How can we stop this from happening again?”

At this very moment, it can seem like there’s not much we can do. But we can start by looking at all the factors that contributed to the massacre. We can start by not forgetting that each of the issues this tragedy has raised has a place in this discussion, and by remembering that there is never a clear-cut answer when we ask the question of what has caused a person to randomly kill.

Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator of the shooting, was reported by his writing professors to be mentally disturbed. One of them urged him to seek counseling and reported him to legal and university authorities. In December 2005, Cho was temporarily detained for psychiatric assessment by Virginia Tech police, and released within a day, being told to undergo outpatient care. Other Virginia Tech students recounted stories of Cho stalking them and their female friends, and many who knew him could at least confirm his social awkwardness and status as a loner.

Should those who knew Cho have taken more serious action on the grounds of his troubling behavior? Would it have prevented the massacre that took place last Monday? In the future, should we attempt to report anybody who exhibits this kind of disturbing behavior, and how far should said behavior be “allowed to go” before it warrants legal reaction? None of these questions have easy answers.

Or looking even further, what about Cho’s reported experiences of being ostracized in high school? He was repeatedly picked on for his lack of social skills and ability to speak English, and these are thought by some to have contributed to his anti-social behavior. Should we attempt to crack down further on school bullying? Should we attempt to “treat” those who are victims of it to prevent it from fueling similar anti-social behavior? What happens to the many people who were singled out as Cho was in secondary school, and how has being ostracized changed their lives?

Gun control, it may seem, is a more tangible issue to consider. Cho was able to purchase two semi-automatic handguns though he had been detained for psychiatric treatment, which is a violation of federal law. But because of bureaucratic discrepancies between Virginia state law and federal law, Cho’s status fell through the cracks and was not reported.

So that seems simple enough to fix. But other over-arching gun control arguments still go on. What if Cho had purchased the guns prior to being declared mentally sound? How could he have been prevented from attaining firearms then?

What about Virginia Tech’s gun-free “safe zone” policy? Some claim that the absence of firearms on campus ensured that no one could stop Cho, and were students and faculty armed, he could have been apprehended.

The Appalachian School of Law shooting in 2002 is certainly something to consider, where a former student killed three people only to be subdued by two students with personal firearms. But what about the Columbine shooting, when a deputy sheriff arrived on the scene and traded fire with the shooters, only for them to run inside the school and cause the deputy to radio for help?

It goes on. Was the police response not strong enough between the first and second shootings? Should the entire campus have been locked down? Should that be standard policy across the country? What about the released media package that Cho sent to NBC News? Does that help us decipher Cho’s behavior? Does it encourage future perpetrators?

And perhaps the scariest thing to consider, to what extent are tragedies like the one at Virginia Tech inevitable if we wish to live in a free society?

There are many other important issues the massacre has raised, and a full representation of them could likely fill this newspaper. None of the answers to them hold the key to how to prevent individuals like Seung-Hui Cho from killing innocent people, but they are all worth a deep amount of thought.

As part of the educated populace, we are the future leaders of this country, in every form. We will be the ones who have to answer these questions and make decisions based on them in the coming years. The power to make the world a more peaceful place will rest partially in all of our hands.

For today, we can start by not forgetting the whole story of this tragedy. We can remember all of the factors that led up to the slaughter of 32 people last Monday, and we can do so with respect and care. We can remember that life is fragile, and pass a moment of silence in remembrance of those 32 who are no longer with us.

And we can work our hardest, every day, to ensure that massacres like this don’t happen again. The words of Nikki Giovanni, poet, activist, and creative writing teacher at Virginia Tech, appear solemnly at the top of the school’s homepage:

“We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness…We will prevail…”