Earlier this week was the fifth anniversary of the tragic rampage shooting at Virginia Tech that took the lives of 32, wounded 17 more and impacted all of us.
In the years since that horrific event, there has been much said about the availability of guns, particularly on the campuses of America’s educational institutions. Among the loudest voices have been some of the family members and victims of the Virginia Tech massacre. Their personal tragedies and struggles make their feelings on the matter particularly relevant and moving.
Unfortunately, while some of these folks and their views have been embraced by the media and certain special interest groups, others have been muffled and not heard at all.
One voice is that of Holly Adams. Her daughter, Leslie Sherman, was murdered that day. Unlike others who have focused on the tools the murderer used that day in the commission of his crime – what they were, how he got them, and what laws might have prevented him from acquiring them, and thus, in their minds, would have prevented the tragedy – Ms. Adams points to the possibility that someone might have been able to stop the murderer before he hurt so many people.
Those Virginia Tech survivors and families who misguidedly call for constraints on the law-abiding as a means of controlling criminals have been promoted as speaking on behalf of all of the families directly impacted by the tragedy. That is a misrepresentation that Holly Adams would like to set straight. On the anniversary of her daughter’s murder, she sent a letter to Philip Van Cleave, President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, or VCDL, a grass roots pro-rights organization. That letter is reprinted below.
[Note: Since fame is one of the motivators of cowardly murderers who commit atrocities like this, we have a policy at The Firearms Coalition of never mentioning their names in any of our writing. In line with that policy, the letter has been slightly edited to remove any mention of the killer's name. Edits are designated by brackets.]
On April 16, 2007, my child, Leslie Sherman, was killed [...] during the Virginia Tech massacre. Today is the fifth anniversary of her death. Always in my memories, every day I wish that this tragedy was a nightmare and I could wake up to hold my daughter, even if it is just one more time. That opportunity might have been possible if someone been able to defend and protect my daughter in her classroom before [the killer] took 30 precious lives.
There is an unfortunate drive for more gun control and the continuation of preventing guns on campus by parents whose children lived or survived during that fatal day. Several family members of those victims have actively voiced their support for increased gun-control measures. As result, it has been assumed that they speak for all families of the Virginia Tech victims. I am writing this to make it clear that this is not the case. They do not represent me and my views.
Speaking for myself, I would give anything if someone on campus – a professor, one of the trained military or guardsman taking classes or another student – could have saved my daughter by shooting [the killer] before he killed our loved ones. Because professors, staff and students are precluded from protecting themselves on campus, [the murderer], a student at Virginia Tech himself, was able to simply walk on campus and go on a killing rampage with no worry that anyone would stop him.
I ask a simple question: Would the other parents of victims be forever thankful if a professor or student was allowed to carry a firearm and could have stopped [the murderer] before their loved one was injured or killed? I would be. I also suspect that the tragedy may not have occurred at all if he knew that either faculty members or students were permitted to carry their own weapons on campus. [The killer] took his own life before campus police were able to reach him and put a stop to his killing spree.
A sad testament to this anniversary date is the number of similar killings in schools and public places that have taken place afterwards as if nothing has changed to help prevent such needless and heartbreaking events. That is why I fully support the VCDL in their outstanding efforts to help prevent this type of tragedy and loss from occurring in the future.
Those who argue against lawful firearms carry on campus tend to argue to the absurd. They paint a picture of irresponsible kids waving guns and shooting teachers and each other over bad grades, lovers spats and during drunken frat-house parties. Their reality doesn’t match up with what we see elsewhere. Some campuses, such as the University of Arizona in Tucson (which also has a gun ban) have off-campus housing where students are free to own guns. We know from personal experience that they do. There is no crime wave in the apartment complexes and rental housing that caters to students.
Supporters of lifting campus gun bans understand that such bans only impact the law-abiding. The campus gun ban was in place at Virginia Tech at the time of the massacre, yet the cowardly murderer was able to go into a dormitory and kill two unarmed people and then hours later go into an education building and kill 30 more.
Those who advocate repeal of campus bans do not propose arming every student and teacher, but rather oppose the disarming of those who already carry guns in other settings.
VCDL had been working for years to repeal arbitrary campus disarmament laws, only to be stymied by administrators and concerned parents who hold a mythical belief that such policies somehow keep armed criminals off of campuses. Had VCDL’s efforts been successful, there might have been an older student or a member of the faculty prepared to stop the tragedy in its early stages. As it was, the criminal, defined as one who breaks laws, broke the rule against bringing guns onto campus. The victims, all of whom complied with the rule, were helpless.
There is no guarantee that someone lawfully carrying a gun would have been in a position to stop the tragedy at Virginia Tech, but the school’s ban on lawful carry guaranteed that there was not. At the same time, the policy clearly had no deterrent effect on the murderer.
As to the idea that lawfully armed individuals might turn their guns on the innocent: there is ample evidence to show that those who lawfully carry concealed weapons almost never engage in any sort of criminal activity. The most common crime of lawful weapons carriers is either inadvertently or intentionally violating a “No Guns” rule.
Other common objections to repealing campus gun bans are suggestions that in a crisis like the Virginia tech massacre, an armed student with limited training would be unlikely to be able to stop the assailant, might inadvertently shoot the wrong person or be mistakenly shot by police. That is a specious argument. Armed citizens use guns to prevent assaults and other crimes some 2.5 million times every year in this country, and they do so without killing innocents or being killed by police. Incidents of incompetence and error are so rare as to be virtually non-existent. Every day there are millions of Americans going about their business with a firearm concealed upon their person – again with such a low rate of mishap as to be statistically negligible.
Certainly there is the possibility of a criminally inclined or mentally unstable person obtaining a permit and then committing some crime or atrocity, but this almost never happens, because such people rarely bother to obey the law as a precursor to violent crime. Even if they do, it is not the legality of being armed which empowers their crime; they could just as easily carry illegally. That is one of the advantages criminals have.
During the Virginia Tech massacre, students huddled behind flimsy desks as they waited and listened to the gunfire getting closer. Several had the time and presence of mind to pull out their cell phones and place calls to the police. Is it really so far-fetched to think that one of them, perhaps a veteran of Iraq or a competitive shooter, might have been able to position themselves in such a way as to take out the murderer when he entered the room? Or to think, as Holly Adams suggests, that perhaps the cowardly murderer might have hesitated to even attempt his heinous crime if there was a chance that one of his victim might have been able to shoot back? That idea is supported by the fact that most of these types of atrocities occur in so-called “Gun Free Zones,” and that most of these cowards surrender or kill themselves at the first sign of armed resistance.
The murders at Virginia Tech were indeed a national tragedy as well as a personal tragedy for the survivors and the families of the victims like Holly Adams. Preventing such tragedies should be a concern for all of us, but responding to the actions of a criminal psychopath by restricting the ability of the law-abiding to protect themselves from such criminal psychopaths is irrational, ineffective and simply wrong.