As I look further at the shooting on the UVA campus that has garnered media attention and triggered the firearms debate afresh, I am noticing several peripheral items.
The shooting itself seems to have likely been triggered by a bullying, disagreement, or other direct social trigger. The people shot were seen as directly offensive to the shooter. The shooter was under investigation from the school for failure to disclose a misdemeanor, related to illegal carry of a weapon. The shooter was originally on the football team for a season, the three dead and two wounded were current players. It is possible that was a source of strife too.
The shooter was at risk of being kicked out of school, went on a class trip, was returning from the trip with football players and he was no longer one, and then three were shot and killed. The charges brought against the shooter are telling as well, second degree murder. First is premediated, a planned attack or prepared attack. If evidence existed that the shooter had planned to get into this confrontation, it would be first degree murder. Second degree murder is without premeditation, no evidence must exist that the shooter intended an attack specifically or in general against these three but suddenly decided to kill them and wound two others. This charge is often used in situations where someone overreacted in response to something.
The charges suggest this was not a planned killing, it was in response to something that happened right there at the bus as the trip was returning. It suggests a conflict arose and came to a head there, when the shooter pulled a handgun. If evidence is found that this was the shooter’s intent, the charges will likely be upgraded. But at this juncture this seems to have been homicide in reaction, overreaction, to something the players initiated with the shooter. We have nothing on the specifics of what the trigger was, nor who ‘started’ it or history between the shooter, a former player, and the players killed and wounded.
White House Reaction
“This is sad, thoughts and prayers. This is why we should ban assault weapons by the way, because an adult concealed a handgun on a college campus and then shot three people under circumstances that appear to be overreactive and not premeditated.”
It’s a low party line response, unsurprising, and honestly expected of this administration at this point.
UVA apparently was on top of the event rather quickly. Issuing the guidance to stay indoors and RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. This is the STOP, DROP, and ROLL of shooters on campus.
The issue comes with follow on communication. Students hid with phones off, lights out, locked behind barricaded doors and under covers for hours upon hours. Ineffectually, and as it turned out needlessly, panicking about a killer who had long fled after the shooting at the bus. He was not hunting door to door, he was not randomly firing across the campus at anyone who moved, he killed and fled.
The reports are indicating that the hide reaction seems to be actively paralyzing folks who are waiting directions on what to do next from the mobile communications network of the campus instead of exercising any free agency to improve their own safety. Students certainly wouldn’t be encouraged to own a firearm and be ready to repel an intruder, with or without campus warning. Students wouldn’t be encouraged to be aware of surroundings, keep an eye out, report on a suspect who was known to the occupants of the bus he rode back with his class it seems, and could therefore be described accurately down to name, date of birth, if he did or did not live on campus, etc.
None of that appears to have happened. Just a RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. warning issued until the arrest was made. The campus, from reports like ABC, appears not to have been alerted so much as paralyzed by the notice. That should be a highly concerning reaction to emergency planners who need to encourage more proactive reactions, like leaving if it is safe to do so.
Especially if you are a student, the stories of these reactions should get your personal wheels turning on what to do in order to get to safety. The campus is giving you a little useful information, but it could be old, it could be in error but their best effort, it could be an accident. How are you going to make yourself safe if your safety comes into much greater than average danger. Are you going to cower in a closet for 12 hours paralyzed or are you going to be more proactive?
What are you going to do. The campus cannot for you. The cops cannot for you. You must be ready to exercise some agency on your own behalf and get you and yours to safety.
Regardless of UVA’s policies, which are listed here, the shooter was carrying a concealed firearm. Legally or illegally is rather irrelevant, he had the pistol. The policy did not physically prohibit the firearm from entering the space, there was no control to do so. This is the reality of public spaces like university campuses, they are uncontrolled space.
Policies prohibiting possession, rather than misuse, are entirely ineffective and days of success without an incident cannot be attributed to the policy. The behavior of the students, guests, and faculty determine that. You could just as easily put into place a policy that states misuse of weapons is unacceptable with equal or greater success. Law and policy are only as effective as they are enforceable. These prohibitions are not enforceable. They are, at best, actionable after the fact, exactly the way a misuse policy would be. They have no additional actual control, they are a request for a behavior standard they cannot effectively enforce.
Hundreds of their thousands of students could be carrying weapons and if done correctly the campus will never know. There is absolutely an active rate of violation of this prohibition, that is an inescapable fact and I would expect it to have started in earnest after Virginia Tech. The likely trend is that more folks have become noncompliant, not less.
I believe that gun control happy politicos have made a mistake in trying to politicize this shooting. They saw campus and thought they had better bait than they did. What they have instead is an adult who did something that would be completely legal and permissible all over this nation, and is done so all over this nation, who then did something highly illegal reflexively after a trigger event and is now facing three second degree murder charges and two attempted charges.
The shooter may end up looking like a partially sympathetic figure depending upon what the investigation reveals, he also may not. But the killing was not random.
The call to ban assault weapons is an absurd and politically charged response that further erodes confidence in the rule of law and good order.
The reactions of campus and authorities appears to have been well directed, however the aftermath is exposing a serious flaw in mass information system. We are triggering panicked overresponses in undertrained people who are then waiting for step-by-step directions, updates, and so forth in order to remain ‘safe’ during the event.
We know from other emergency events, fire especially, that directions must be clear, concise, and constant. Even then there will be people who ignore them, overreact to them, or react unexpectedly. In an event like a shooter loose on campus the directions must be equally as clear, concise, and constant. Using a mass information system, information must flow. If the information flowing may alert the suspect unduly to act, then no information must flow. But I personally do not like that argument nor the concept of using disinformation, like a shelter warning for a storm, in place to try and corral a suspect.
The aftermath is showing that many of our ‘drills’ are causing anxiety more than preparedness, which means it is time to rethink those drills. This is far from the only place this drill fatigue can be seen to have ill effects, but it is one of the more crucial.