Thirty-three dead. Twenty-four wounded. The number of dead and wounded in the Virginia Tech massacre speak not only to the unbelievable tragedy of the shooting, but also the failure of our society on many different levels.
Why would someone kill 33 of his fellow students? Why didn't the college cancel classes immediately when the first two bodies were discovered -- two hours before the deadlier rampage began? Why were students not warned of a possible shooter on campus earlier?
Police are still investigating the incident, but one thing has become abundantly clear already: If future tragedies are to be avoided, students must be taught how to respond to these emergencies. Witness after witness in the Blacksburg college said they hid under their desks while the shooter pumped bullet after bullet into their classmates. So far there is no word of anyone attempting to stop him. Students blocked the door in only one known case.
Students in the U.S. are taught from their earliest experience in school not to fight back. They are taught to be passive -- to take any abuse without striking out to protect themselves. If they do defend themselves, they receive the same punishment as the aggressor. This is a ludicrous policy. Confronted with a crazed shooter, passive behavior will only get you killed.
The first response should be to barricade the door and prevent the shooter from getting in. If that fails, students should be taught to respond with force. A man with a gun will probably wound an attacker, but he will certainly kill many if they hunker down under flimsy school desks. Those desks would be much more effective as missiles than as shields.
Would the number of dead have been less had students fought back? It's impossible to say. But the numbers certainly couldn't have been higher.