Lessons to be Learned from Senseless Mass Murder

My power went out around 10:30 yesterday morning due to a wind storm that took out a transformer in my area. As I am writing this (away from home) power has yet to be restored so I am a bit behind on details, but I heard news of the Virginia Tech massacre on the radio and caught bits and pieces here and there. While I don’t know many of the specifics, I have read the excellent posts on the story here at Wizbang and a few other blogs. Most of the early reports are fact oriented. What has only just begun, but will surely follow in earnest over the next few days is the political blame game. The calls for gun control are a given, as they were following Columbine. There will also, probably, be a way some will tie all this to President Bush, Dick Cheney and/or Halliburton. (I really hope I am wrong about that last prediction.)

Many will be searching for lessons to be learned from this senseless mass murder. I hope all aspects of the horrible crime are investigated and studied. If anything can be learned from this event that could save lives in the future, that would at least make these senseless deaths serve some meaningful purpose. It wouldn’t make it any less horrific or any easier for the families of the lost and injured, but at the very least we should always look for any lessons that can be learned from such an event. There is already questioning of the way the crime scene was secured and those on campus were alerted and when. Maybe as a result procedures will be improved for future emergency situations.

Those looking for deeper meanings, the “why” for the shootings, are likely to be disappointed. In these situations, when a murderer decides to take the lives of innocent strangers, there is little hope for a satisfying answer to the question of “why.” Unfortunately there are rarely even any answers to the question, “How could this have been prevented?” Hopefully any meaningful lessons that can be learned, will be, and political opportunism will be kept to a minimum.

I have seen several reports that this shooting is the most deadly school shooting in U.S. history. What I did not know, however, is that this was not the deadliest attack on a school in U.S. history. At Right Wing News, John Hawkins reminded readers that Andrew Kehoe “killed 45 people and injured 58, mostly children in second to sixth grades” in a bombing in 1927. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I did not know the story. I found a fascinating account at a Court TV website. What I took from the Andrew Kehoe school bombing almost a century ago, and from the more current school shootings, is that whatever reason the killer gives, whether it be political or personal (as in the case of the Columbine killers), it never makes sense in the context of opening fire on innocent students. It is pure evil, whether it be due to insane hatred or mental illness. It just doesn’t make sense.

Another thing I see in these crimes is that often there was little anyone could have done, without being able to read the murderer’s mind, to prevent the killings. Some schools already have metal detectors and I expect even more will have them following the Virginia Tech killings. But short of erecting maximum security schools, it is difficult to stop a madman determined to kill. That is a horrifying thought, but sadly it is true. These are senseless acts of cruelty that are difficult to prevent.

We will strengthen security measures in our schools and public places, and we will attempt to understand and treat the underlying reasons a person might commit such an insane act. But, unfortunately, I fear most of us will just be left with an increased sense of helplessness and bewilderment.

Update: I heard someone (I missed his name) on one of the cable shows say that one thing that could be done to decrease the likelihood of these things happening is to stop touting this as a record breaking event. He has a good point. He said that over and over again today he heard the massacre described as the most deadly or the worst in U.S. history (as I did above). This is a huge story and it is a fact that it is the most deadly school shooting in our history. There is a lot of glorification of violence in our culture though. Where is the line between what is and is not acceptable? There was much discussion of this following the Columbine shootings due to the movie scene the killers seemed to be imitating. Expect to hear plenty more of it and there is no easy answer to this one.

Update II: Bruce Kesler has an interesting take on the Va Tech shootings in which he points to Judith Klinghoffer’s excellent post, “As Sheep to the Slaughter Once Again.” Go read them both. This is not the take you are likely to see on the network coverage.

Requiem for a monster
Virginia Tech Shooting: The aftermath