Sound of a Gun

Published 17 years, 3 months past

This morning, the local NPR station devoted an hour to the psychological effects of a campus shooting.  Four years ago, there was a shooting on the Case campus in which one person died, so they had members of the Case counseling staff talk about how they helped affected people cope on and with that day.

The first caller I heard on the program did exactly what I knew someone was going to do: he said that the tragedy would have been much more limited in scope if others had been armed, if students and faculty and ordinary citizens routinely carried concealed weapons.  The very next caller, inevitably, put forth the view that stricter gun controls would prevent such tragedies from ever happening.

In both cases, the host cut the calls short, saying that the goal was to talk about the psychological effects of campus shootings, not start a debate on gun control.  But that’s exactly what was happening.  Those people were trying to mitigate their personal sense of horror by focusing on ways to fix some underlying problem, to prevent such things from ever happening again.  They were trying to make the unthinkable thinkable.

It’s understandable.  We’re a results-oriented, can-do-focused society.  And by locking our attention on what we fervently believe to be solutions, we can shut out the grief that we feel for strangers miles and miles away, ignore the horror and anger that wells inside us.

So far as I know, nobody I know has even a tenuous connection to the events in Virginia.  But all I can think of is the parents, children, spouses, and relatives who will never see their loved ones again.  In my throat, I feel a faint shadow of the freezing, nauseating grip of despair and anguish they are experiencing.  Behind my eyes, there is an echo of the ache of tears that will not come because shock has stopped them cold.  In my guts, there is a small tear that mimics the gaping, ragged void that must be felt by a parent whose child is suddenly dead.

These dead are not my dead… but they are all our dead.

Some other day, perhaps, it will be a time to think about and discuss ways to fix whatever problems lead to or permit such horrors.  Perhaps.  Today I mourn those who died and the death of all their hopes and plans.  I grieve for those left behind to cope with a shattering new reality.  It is not what we’re taught to do, but it is the most human thing any of us can do.  We forget that too easily.

It is no solution, but for me, this is not a day for solutions.  It’s a day of sorrow.

Comments (19)

  1. A very poignant post. Indiscriminate slaughter, in any form, occurring in any place and in any number, organized or a lone act, — makes no sense.

  2. I watched a little yesterday, but tried not to watch much of the coverage. I knew what was coming..find someone to blame. In the end, the shooter is to blame. I got so sick of people blaming the university for their “failure to act”, but obviously in hindsight, they could have done things differently.

    Fox news had a profiler come on to “talk about what kind of person would do this”, but all she did was talk about how mad she was that the university didn’t stop it from happening. It annoyed me, especially because she wasn’t there to talk about that.

    People expect safety and expect that those in charge are able to expect the unexpected in order to respond to every possible scenario. I really find it hard to think that anyone could’ve expected this, nor prevented it. It was a very tragic event.

    I’d really rather not concentrate on who to blame, and, like you, would like to focus on the damage that is done. My heart goes out to all people who were affected by this tragedy. I just hope that looking back, we can not only help those people moving forward, but learn from what happened, so that those who can prevent this from happening again, are able to do so.

  3. Thank you, Eric. Sane responses to this tragedy are rare.

  4. Trying to “fix a problem” is a way many people use to cope with their grief. If a solution to fix the problem is available then the person can semi-cope with the tragedy. This why you have people accusing Virginia Tech of not responding by locking down the campus after the first shooting. How Virginia Tech would have known that this would lead to a greater tragedy, I don’t know, as this was a domestic violence case in a campus of over 35,000. Then there are the gun advocates and gun control advocates, all trying to cope with the enormity of this horrendous shooting.
    My thoughts, condolences and prayers go out to the victims and families of the Virginia Tech tragedy.

  5. When I was in college, I had a professor who, at least weekly, told us to "Take on the pain of the world each day." Doing that can keep us both from trying to gloss over the pain, and from trying to find quick solutions and scapegoats for these things, as it’s more important for us to engage in genuine compassion for what is happening. As difficult as it is, it’s a powerful thing when we are able to do this.

  6. As a resident of Virginia, with many friends and acquaintances with direct ties to Virginia Tech, I’m appalled at the mainstream media’s attempts to trivialize this event into some kind of political discussion. The simple fact is that this disturbed individual planned this attack over some time, and no amount of gun law or different course by the administration was likely to stop or even significantly alter his senseless actions. He would have found a way to obtain the weapons, and the means to use them.

    Thoughts and prayers to those involved … may you find peace and comfort in your time of mourning.

  7. Well said. Thank you.

  8. I am a parent of a student at Virginia Tech and lived through a pretty bad day as I watched the story unfold. A friend at work also had a son there and another had a brother there. I also have many other friends who had children there as well. As far as I know, I and all of our friends were all able to contact our family members and ensure their safety. As the story unfolded all day many of our co-workers provided support. Needless to say I was glad to go home last night.

    A troubled soul reached out and shattered many lives. But I doubt anyone could have foreseen what happened. It is also the way of things that we all want to find answers and find a way to protect our children. I wish it were that easy. I personally do not question the way the University handled the situation. Faculty members did their best to protect students and lost their lives in the process. This isn’t the world of Minority Report where things could be known in advance. No one could have foreseen it.

    My wife was able to sit next to my son at the Convocation Service providing love and support where it is needed. I personally don’t feel that finger pointing is the thing to do. Now is the time to provide all the love and support we can to allow those involved to heal. As you say, solutions should be discussed another day with clearer heads.

    Eric, we did meet at AEA in Boston. So this has touched me. I, my wife and family, appreciate the words and support you and the others have given.

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    Ryan Irelan » Trying to Make the Unthinkable Thinkable

    […] Trying to Make the Unthinkable Thinkable – “It’s understandable. We’re a results-oriented, can-do-focused society. And by locking our attention on what we fervently believe to be solutions, we can shut out the grief that we feel for strangers miles and miles away, ignore the horror and anger that wells inside us.” [previously] […]

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    Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » links for 2007-04-17

    […] Eric’s Archived Thoughts: Sound of a Gun “Today I mourn those who died and the death of all their hopes and plans. I grieve for those left behind to cope with a shattering new reality. It is not what we”re taught to do, but it’s the most human thing any of us can do. We forget that too easily. (tags: grief violence tragedy virginiatech) […]

  11. Well put sir, well put….TC

  12. Amen.

  13. Mr. Meyer,

    I just really want to thank you. I’m a student at Virginia Tech, and I have been totally disgusted by people who are turning this into their political issue. Gov. Kaine said, “People who want to take this within 24 hours of the event and make it their political hobby horse to ride, I’ve got nothing but loathing for them.”

    Your thoughts and prayers are deeply appreciated by the community.

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    […] Thank you, Eric. Eine ausgewogene und seltene Reaktion auf die tragischen Ereignisse in Blacksburg, Virginia. […]

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  16. And you know what’s sad about this? Weeks will go, maybe months, and most of the people will forget about it completely… Sad…

  17. Perhaps the most level-headed commentary I’ve seen so far comes from Gary Lavergne, director of admissions research at the University of Texas at Austin and author of A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders. In this opinion piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education, he compares the actions of Charles Whitman with Cho Seung-Hui. Mr. Whitman killed or wounded nearly 50 people from atop a tower at the University of Texas in Austin in 1966. Several factors were proposed to try to explain why Mr. Whitman did what he did, but in the end (in Mr. Lavergne’s words):

    Any cause-and-effect theory, whether organic (brain tumor), chemical (amphetamine psychosis), or psychological (military training or child abuse), embracing the idea that Charles Whitman’s judgment or free will was impaired, is not consistent with what he did. He carefully planned every move and detail, and he succeeded in doing what he set out to do — murdering people and getting himself killed in spectacular fashion. The Whitman case taught me that sometimes our zeal to champion causes important to us or to explain the unexplainable and be “enlightened” blinds us to the obvious.

    Followed by:

    Charles Whitman was a murderer; he killed innocent people. We should not forget that. In Virginia we appear to have a Whitman-like character. It is vitally important for all to remember that there is only one person responsible for what happened in Blacksburg, and that is the man who pulled the trigger.

  18. Not only do I feel great sympathy for the friends and family of those injured or dead at Virginia Tech, I also feel great sympathy for the friends and families of those 200 Iraqis who died of bomb blasts (6 times the Virginia Tech massacre) on that same day. I don’t discriminate based on geography. The Iraqis are our dead, too.

  19. I agree with you on this one Eric – this is not the time to assign blame. This is an opportunity to learn, and opportunity to grow as a society.

    What we must not lose from this situation it the fact that this man was responsible for his own actions. In a society where we routinely assign “victim” status to everyone and their dog in order to avoid making the tough decisions about the nature of evil in people, this is a rare instance in which we cannot do that.

    This man left his manifesto. This man claimed responsibility. And this man showed us his tools of death. This man was not a victim. And this is an opportunity for us to face that.

    These young folks died at the hands of a monster in love with his own self-image. There are others out there like him. Some of us know who they are, and have excused their behavior – chalking it up to the idea that they are a “victim.”

    So what do we do now?

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