Tag Archives: Virginia Tech school shooting

“An armed student could have saved so many lives”: Blaming the Virginia Tech Shootings on the Concealed Carry Ban

The quote in the title exemplifies the idea circulating in online discourses[1] that the 32 tragic deaths at the Virginia Tech University shooting could have been prevented if students and staff had been permitted to carry concealed firearms on campus. This is explicated in statements such as these: “If only one person in that classroom had been armed, he might not have killed so many”; “One law-abiding armed citizen could have taken down the shooter after the first couple of shots.” Through speculative propositions with reference to the term ‘armed,’ it may be inferred that the circumstances shaping this are the lack of firearms. To some degree, online commentators blame ‘regulatory failures,’ where the ban in place is held accountable for students not being able to take the ‘appropriate precautions’[2] of carrying firearms to campus.

To take this argument further, for many users, the shooting at Virginia Tech represents an example of what can transpire when students are not allowed to carry weapons: “People thought Virginia Tech was safe, didn’t they?”; “Virginia Tech…enough said”; “Look at what happened at Virginia Tech.” The theorist Ferraro did say that fear of crime involves an “emotional response of dread or anxiety to crime or symbols a person associates with crime.”[3] It could be said that the shooting at Virginia Tech evokes images of horror and dread and is a ‘buzzword’ for the ‘worst gun massacre ever.’ Further to this, it appears that second-hand understandings of what took place at Virginia Tech — such as students hiding under desks waiting to be saved — are allowing for such perceptions to crystallise in a number of users.

In a similar vein, a video containing an interview with Virginia Tech survivor, Colin Goddard, who has worked with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led to outrage and anger from a lot of online debaters. Some displayed incredulity that Colin was against concealed carry on campus, stating that it was these rules which prevented him and his peers from ‘defending themselves.’ Such a sentiment was echoed by the Gun Owners of America’s Executive Director, Larry Pratt, who stated in the immediate aftermath of the shooting: “All the school shootings that have ended abruptly in the last ten years were stopped because a law-abiding citizen — a potential victim — had a gun…”[4] The terminology used here is indicative of an idealistic stance that a ‘law-abiding citizen’ was able to prevent themselves from becoming a ‘victim.’ The ‘solution’ to the problem is deemed by some to be allowing for concealed carry on campus — this will discussed in the next blog post.

[This post was put together using the results from critical discourse analyses of comment threads in thirty-two YouTube videos relating to the Virginia Tech shooting and the concealed carry on campus movement. The blog posts over this and next month will further explore the discussions around this movement and school shootings.]

[1] These came in the form of comments on thirty-two YouTube videos filtered as the ‘most relevant’ to the terms ‘Virginia Tech shooting’ and ‘concealed carry on campus.’ Please refer to the blog posted on the 15th October 2014 regarding the usefulness of YouTube in research projects.

[2] This is discussed as a way to avert and negate crime in the following source: Elias, R. (1986) The Politics of Victimization: Victims, Victimology and Human Rights. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 72, 87.

[3] Ferraro, K. F. (1995) Fear of Crime: Interpreting Victimization Risk. New York: University of New York Press, 179.

[4] As quoted in the following press release: Gun Owners of America (GOA) (April 2007) ‘Virginia Tech Shooting — Gun Bans Are The Problem, Not The Solution.’ Available at: http://www.gunowners.org/pr0704.html.

Changing the Landscape of Emergency Management Legislation

During ‘crises’ — something as horrific and unexpected as a school shooting fits that criteria — immediate strategies have to be formed; prevailing narratives then have a direct impact on which coping strategies are selected.[1] As documented in the blog post published 16th February 2015, school shooting incidents have elucidated flaws in emergency management plans; this requires legislative response. In Colorado, the site of the Columbine school shooting (1999), the General Assembly passed the ‘Safe Schools Act’ (2000), requiring each school district board in the state to adopt a emergency management plan, crisis management procedures, and employee training. This framework had to adhere to the ‘National Incident Management System’: a federal-level framework of four principles for responding to crises consisting of organisational structures and strategies, intended to allow first responders from different jurisdictions and agencies to be able to coordinate more effectively.[2]

Following the 2007 Virginia Tech school shooting, legislation was implemented the year after at the state-level. All institutions falling within the purview of higher education were mandated to have emergency management plans and coordinate these with local community ones; every year the president or vice-president of every institution is to review and make any necessary revisions to ensure it remains current, and the institution shall carry out a drill; after a period of four years, the plan is to be reviewed and submitted to the state ‘Department of Emergency Management.’

Although Colorado had already taken action in the past, the Virginia Tech shooting (2007) prompted the Governor of Colorado to make school safety a priority item once again. In 2008, he signed a bill which established the Colorado School Safety Resource Center to provide assistance and funding to schools in preparing for and responding to emergency situations. An existing Colorado statute was amended to include the addition of a sub-section provisioning funds for the school mapping information to first responders.

Moreover, the Colorado ‘Safe Schools Act’ (2000) was amended in 2008 to include the requirement that all school districts had to incorporate components of the ‘National Response Framework’ into emergency management plans. The actions to be taken were: devising a plan to meet the date of compliance (1 July 2009); adopting the ‘National Incident Management System,’ the federal-level framework for dealing with emergencies and the ‘Incident Command System,’ as the management structures to organise and organise crisis responses; form relationships and communicate with local responders to check adherence to local, county and state level plans; define the roles and responsibilities of community partners through memoranda of understanding (known as MOU’s); engage in practice schedules, such as drills and tabletop (i.e. simulation) exercises; partake in an annual inventory of emergency equipment. Revised Statutes in the 2012 Colorado General Assembly made the legislative declaration that “emergency response and crisis management measures should be implemented in all communities within the state to protect students and school personnel.” The importance of emergency management plans, training and response means that legislation is an expected response to flaws; the next blog will discuss this in relation to law enforcement tactics.

[This blog was put together by analysing legislative documents from Colorado and Virginia. Future blogs will look at a different dimension of emergency management, by exploring the response of law enforcement to school shooting incidents.]

[1] Fairclough, Isabela. and Norman Fairclough. (2012) Political Discourse Analysis: A Method for Advanced Students. London, New York: Routledge, 3, 16.

[2]  Definition taken from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (n.d.) ‘National Incident Management System,’ https://www.fema.gov/national-incident-management-system


“These people [school shooters]: they’re seriously mentally ill, they’re hearing voices”: Will redefining the criteria for prohibited gun owners reduce school shootings?

The quote cited in the title, said by one of the experts on gun-related legislation I interviewed, highlights the difference of school shootings from other types of gun violence in the U.S. A commonality in school shootings and other types of spree incidents does tend to be mental illness: the Virginia Tech University shooting (2007); the Northern Illinois University shooting (2008); the mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona (2011); the Aurora Theatre shooter in Colorado (2012); the ‘Navy Yard’ shootings in Washington, D.C. (2013). In all of these examples, the perpetrators legally procured firearms: my gun violence prevention interviewees claimed that this was due to limitations in existing laws.

One interviewee pointed to the restrictiveness of the criteria for disqualification under the federal-level “Gun Control Act” (1968): being admitted to a psychiatric institution or being formally adjudicated by a court as a danger. For instance, the Virginia Tech shooter was prohibited from purchasing firearms under federal law; however, because he had only ‘temporarily detained’ at a mental institute rather than ‘committed,’ he was able to circumvent the federal restrictions and be eligible to buy firearms under state law at that time. Following the attack, the Governor of Virginia, using executive order, changed the law to prescribe that anyone found to be a danger to themselves or others by a court-ordered review — regardless of whether or not it was voluntary — should be prohibited. It was suggested by another interviewee that the specific criteria for firearm purchase exclusion at both the federal and state levels should mandate a broader scope of the threat posed by individuals, based on their history and whether they have expressed intentions to harm themselves or others.

Citizens themselves could also play a part by monitoring those closest to them and taking precautions to ensure untoward things do not happen, suggested one of my interviewees. This is particularly relevant when considering the Sandy Hook elementary school shooter had severe mental illness, yet was able to access his mother’s firearms to kill her and the victims at the school. The careful monitoring of those closest to them could also encourage those with mental illnesses to seek treatment before they carry out violent actions. Notably, the Virginia Tech school shooter (2007) did not pursue treatment on his own; rather, it was his remark to his suitemates “I might as well kill myself” that resulted in him getting mentally assessed.

In order to put mental health on the government agenda, interviewees recommended framing it as a ‘public health issue’ centred on school and other types of mass shootings. The issue of mental health and guns would then have to be based on a reconceptualisation of public safety based on the increasing number of mass shooting incidents, particularly those where the perpetrator legally procured a gun despite a history of mental illness. When it comes to school shooters, it is possible that putting barriers in the way of those who are mentally ill and have the potential to act violently could allow for interventionary efforts to help the individual before it culminates in a shooting incident.

[This blog used results from interviews with representatives from gun violence prevention groups and other experts in gun-related legislation. Further adding to this post were studies about the legal changes after the Virginia Tech shooting and general readings about past mass/school shooting incidents. The next blog post will examine how emergency management could play a part in reducing the severity of school shootings.]