“If all Americans want is security they can go to prison. They’ll have a roof over their heads and enough to eat.” – Dwight Eisenhower
In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre a predictable cycle began. First, there was the obvious and warranted period of shock and mourning. This period is the shortest of all. Then the blood-letting begins.
Plaintiff lawyers have so successfully inculturated the idea that whenever something “bad” happens someone is to blame and that person owes you millions of dollars, that the finger-pointing has become instinctual. Before the facts were even known, people demanded the firing of the police chief and president of Virginia Tech. They didn’t even know the name of the shooter, but somehow they could come to authoritative conclusions about whom to blame.
Next up was the parade of pundits charging over each other to somehow link this tragedy to their issue. The gun control pundits blamed the availability of guns. The gun rights crowd blamed restrictive gun laws. The civil rights crowd started to worry about racial reprisals. The hate America crowd blamed an American society that produces violent killers (never mind the last college massacre was in 1966). The hate Bush crowd obviously blames Bush for everything that ever goes wrong. I had an unsatisfactory bowel movement this morning … I blame Bush.
Then the last phase is policymakers and political leaders rushing to microphones proposing legislation and policies designed to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. Almost always, such policies are destined to fail.
It is important to note, that at each phase, most often the full picture isn’t known, and as time goes on, what really happened becomes increasingly irrelevant.
To see why policy-making done in this way is harmful one only needs to look at the aftermath of the Columbine shootings. Specifically, the scourge of zero tolerance shows the real harm.
One California elementary school brought in the police on a child who was accused of being a terrorist. What unthinkable behavior did he commit? He was playing cops and robbers. Four kindergartners in New Jersey were suspended after the police were called also for playing cops and robbers. Another child was actually charged with terrorism for pointing a paper gun at other students.
In the wake of the policies that were rushed into place, hundreds if not thousands of children’s lives were traumatized and ruined for doing nothing more than being children.
To show that the Virginia Tech massacre has already ensnared students, one only needs to look at Cary-Grove High School were a student was arrested last Thursday for disorderly conduct. His actions, he wrote a violent essay. If this is the new standard, perhaps we should arrest Quentin Tarantino and the entire cast of “Grindhouse.” Another college student in New York was sent to a psychiatric ward for examination. What did he do? He had a picture of him holding a shotgun on Facebook.
The fad policy seems to be an emergency text message system to warn students of potential problems. Let’s analyze such a system briefly in light of what happened.
The first incident was a dorm shooting of a female student and a male resident assistant. At this point they wrongly presumed the shooter to be a boyfriend. People are suggesting at that point an emergency message should have been sent. Now such a policy shouldn’t cover just the dorms, but the larger campus community.
What would such a system accomplish? It would cause unnecessary panic. If the university doesn’t cancel class, it might as well because people would stop showing up. A quick search showed about a half-dozen gun incidents in the Champaign area which could now shut down campus, and of course, there would be an increase in staged incidents for students trying to get out of tests.
Before policymakers enshrine new ways to unnecessarily ruin people’s lives, perhaps they should take a step back, wait for the full facts and make reasonable and rational changes instead.
John Bambenek is the Assistant Politics Editor for BC Magazine and is an academic professional for the University of Illinois. He is a syndicated columnist who blogs at Part-Time Pundit and the executive director of The Tumaini Foundation which helps AIDS orphans and other children in Tanzania to get an education. He is the current owner of BlogSoldiers, a blog-only traffic exchange.