April 18, 2007
Pareto Principle of School Shootings
By Jim Babka
Why Guns Rights are not mere politics. This blog post is a little different. It's a little more personal and visceral. It's not a polished editorial or Downsizer-Dispatch. These are, I guess, my ramblings. As most of my friends know, my Sunday radio show is sponsored by Gun Owners of America (GOA) -- headquartered in Virginia. Monday, when the shootings occurred at Virginia Tech (VT), GOA wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter. They issued a press release titled, "Virginia Tech Shooting -- Gun Bans Are the Problem, Not the Solution." For me, gun rights are not about politics. This issue is life and death. It's that important. I have found myself alternately quite pleased and very frustrated while watching the news coverage of the VT shootings. If the comments to our blog were any indication, I was not alone. The Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 principle) tells us that 80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes. For examples, 20% of the people do 80% of the work or 80% of your income comes from 20% of your customers. In the VT media coverage, the Pareto Principle is almost ignored as the reporters focus on the wrong people and things -- seeking some preventative solution. There was endless discussion about how to spot someone who would do such a thing as shoot others, how to "prevent" these things from happening in the future, and why the University didn't do more to provide security. Empathy is important to addressing these concerns. I'll employ that here. But we must return to the 20% concept that will bear 80% of the preventative load in dealing with future school shootings. Spotting (and stopping) a Lunatic Have you ever had a friend or acquaintance that was "off" in some fashion? Did you have some duty to report their odd way of looking at the world to the authorities? And if you had, what could they have done? Isn't anti-social thought a Constitutional right so long as it doesn't actually hurt someone else? Did that person have a disproportionate interest in slasher films? Watch too much porn? Lose their temper and cuss? Did they own the entire "Faces of Death" collection? ...or every Marilyn Manson record? Were they _constantly_ droning on about you how evil abortion is? ...or how dirty immigrants are? ...or how hypocritical Christian fundamentalists are? Should any of these be reasons for turning people over to authorities? Did the odd person you knew go off and commit a homicide? Probably not. But if they had, is it somehow your fault? Are you supposed to be racked with guilt? Should the local prosecutor be able to press charges against you because you didn't do anything to stop them? And if not, then why are we wasting so much media time on this question? Certainly hand-wringing doesn't do much to save lives. Prevention There are 26,000 students enrolled at Virginia Tech. 2600 acres to the campus. More than 9,000 students reside on the campus. I hear, some of the students even drink beer. Beer? Yes, beer. Students choose a wide-open campus like Virginia Tech because, well, it's OPEN. It's free. One isn't living in a "police state." They're out from under the tyranny of Mom and Dad! How else could these young academicians drink beer and do other crazy, fun, or hormonally-driven things college students are prone to do? Implied in most prevention discussions is the need for increased surveillance. But with surveillance, students will find that the authorities are likely to clamp down on their fun and beer consumption. Yet trading that freedom, and its accompanying fun, wouldn't lead to security. Repeat after me: "Surveillance is not security. Surveillance is not security. Surveillance is not security." On 9-11, we had surveillance on the hijackers. In Boston Logan airport, they went through a metal detector. Then, they were compelled to pause and have their bags more closely checked. We have the whole thing on camera. That's great for forensics, after the crime; but meaningless to "prevent" a determined killer -- particularly if they are suicidal. The University Didn't Do Enough The cable news channels were obsessed with why the University waited so long to notify students and place the campus in lock-down. Hindsight is 20-20. What the media had all day to obsess over campus authorities had only minutes to think through and with fewer facts at their fingertips and much greater responsibility if they were wrong. The next day, another institution in Austin, TX, concerned about copycats, shut down an entire campus and sent everyone home because of a threatening note they found. Did they overreact? 26,000 is the size of many American cities. Should two people getting shot on the other side of your town mean you can't leave your house to go to work? Given the timing, the Austin, TX campus probably did the right thing. But what about next week or next year: Should any anonymous prankster be empowered to ruin literally thousands of people's work day with but a call, an email, or a note? Could Virginia Tech have done more? Probably. But here's the most important point: The University didn't pull the trigger. They killed no one. And it's apparent, even at this early point in the process, that they did act -- though, obviously, not with perfection. Oh, the benefits of hindsight. Now I would be tempted to feel sorry for the VT administration, except for one thing. Early last year, the VT administration celebrated the defeat of a bill that would've permitted law-abiding, concealed permit holders, the right to bring their guns with them to class. According to GOA, "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." Is it responsible to tell law-abiding citizens that they must enter "victim disarmament zones" every time they enter school property? Doesn't the VT massacre demonstrate that murderers have no concern about a silly gun ban? At the Appalachian School of Law, a shooter was stopped when two students were able to run and get their guns, which were in locked cars in a parking lot not far away. But even that awkward defense was unavailable at VT. 85% of Americans consider it appropriate for school faculty to have "a gun at school to defend the lives of students" to stop a school shooter (Research 2000 poll). And so, the Virginia legislature considered a bill that would've made it legal for concealed weapon permit holders to carry their guns at schools But VT was opposed -- very opposed to anything of the sort. In early 2006, after a bill died in session, VT spokesman Larry Hincker celebrated with the statement, "I'm sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly's actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus." Ironic. Misguided. Haunting. Hopefully, Mr. Hinker is embarrassed. Under present federal law, unless states proactively pass laws permitting guns, then guns are ABSOLUTELY banned from school campuses -- unless they're on the hip of a police officer who probably won't show up until it's too late. Utah and Oregon are the only two states that allow faculty to carry guns on campus. No states permit University students with concealed carry permits to bring their guns to class. Are you surprised to learn that Utah and Oregon hasn't been in the news for a school shooting? I'm not. Yes, I'm saying that the potential presence of handguns is a deterrent to criminal gun violence. Disarming innocents may even be attractive to angry lunatics. But deterrence isn't even the most important argument. And this is where it becomes personal, and not political, for me. This week, I've repeatedly imagined myself in that classroom, with each shot, powerless to stop the wounding of first one, then two, then three and four and five people. Soon, the murderer stops -- TO RELOAD! Doesn't anybody have a gun? Oh yeah, for our own safety, the federal government told our University that we shouldn't be allowed to bring guns on campus. And our University helped persuade our state legislature not to pass a bill to change that. Heck, if they had permitted me, I would've brought my pistol. But I didn't want to get caught -- treated like a criminal, punished by the school and the local prosecutor. What were the odds I'd need my gun today? So I obeyed the law. I unloaded it and locked it in the trunk. Now, I'm left to wonder, as I sit in this fishbowl of a classroom, watching my fellow students huddle in fear, writhe in bloody pain, or even breathe their last, WHY DIDN'T THE MURDERER OBEY THE LAW? Doesn't he realize guns are illegal on campus? What a stupid, silly question that is. It doesn't matter. Criminals, by definition, don't obey the law! If one or two people in those classrooms had been legally armed, perhaps today we wouldn't be morning 32 deaths. Maybe, it would be 22 ...or 10 ...or 3. If a concealed carry holder had been able to stop the shooter and save even one life, wouldn't it have been worth it? Let's get focused. The Pareto Principle -- the 80/20 rule -- to safety is permitting folks who've gone through the legal requirements necessary to obtain a concealed carry permit to do the civic duty they've assumed. The person next to you just might save your life, unless, of course, you're in a "victim disarmament zone" otherwise known as college.
Filed under Safety
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