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Va Tech: How Pols and Lobbies Play the Tragedy

Immediately when tragedy strikes, the nation's most finely-tuned industry--the great American publicity machine--springs into action.

Here's a look inside a reporter's in-box in the first hours after the Virginia Tech shootings:

A pro-gun group called blasted Virginia Tech administrators for opposing bills in the Richmond legislature that would have erased rules banning students from carrying guns on college campuses: "It's not illegal in Virginia for 21 year old+ college students and staff holding concealed handgun permits to carry concealed handguns to class; but college "rules" have long threatened students and staff with expulsion or firing if they legally carry a gun on campus. And for the last two years, Virginia Tech and other VA college bureaucrats have successfully lobbied the VA General Assembly by opposing & killing follow the lead of Utah and nullify these dangerous college rules."

Gun advocates were even quicker and more aggressive than gun control groups to jump onto the tragedy. Larry Pratt, the northern Virginia man who leads the Gun Owners of America, offered himself up for TV and print interviews, noting that he was prepared to appear on talk shows to say this:

"When will we learn that being defenseless is a bad defense? 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. The latest school shooting at Virginia Tech demands an immediate end to the gun-free zone law which leaves the nation's schools at the mercy of madmen."

Politicians and even ex-office holders instantly served up statements of sympathy and concern that said nothing but functioned only to get the pols' names out there. Even former Senator George Allen sent out a statement. Some excerpts:

"As parents of a college student in Virginia, Susan and I ache for the heart-broken families and friends who have lost loved ones today at Virginia Tech due to this heinous, despicable mayhem. Our prayers are with them. As many of us know, Virginia Tech is not just a school, it is close and caring community. Susan and I will join them and the rest of Virginia as we pray for the lives we've lost today and for the recovery of the students who survived this senseless, terrible tragedy."

Virginia Senator Jim Webb's office even sent out an MP3 of his statement on the floor of the Senate expressing his sympathies for the victims.

Universities across the region and nation put out word that they were prepared for all emergencies and that they--perhaps in contrast to Virginia Tech--had well-oiled plans to inform students in the event of any disaster. College presidents joined politicians in issuing statements; for example, here's what came from George Washington University prez Stephen Joel Trachtenberg:

"No words can describe our heartfelt sorrow and sympathies in response to the unconscionable tragedy at Virginia Tech. This incident reminds us all that senseless violence can occur anytime, anyplace. Our thoughts and prayers go to the families and friends of the victims as well as to the entire Virginia Tech community."

By Marc Fisher |  April 17, 2007; 11:44 AM ET
Previous: Va. Tech: The Desperate, Futile Quest for Meaning | Next: Va. Tech: Report from the Killer's Block


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'Politicians and even ex-office holders instantly served up statements of sympathy and concern that said nothing but functioned only to get the pols' names out there. Even former Senator George Allen sent out a statement.'

C'mon, Marc. I don't like the guy, either, but considering he didn't use the opportunity to push an agenda, isn't it possible he was sincere? And can there really be too many expressions of solidarity in a situation like this?

Posted by: fs | April 17, 2007 1:02 PM

Solidarity is one thing. But all this chatter is a play by the politicians to divert attention from the issues that must be addressed.

Gun control? Mental health? Individual safety? Crime control? Campus emergency preparedness? All of these need to be addressed. But that takes real energy and real effort... unlike the somber words with which these folks are slinging into the air.

Their words that don't even begin to conceal the intentions they established a long time ago and will continue to hold as tightly as a wino clutches his bottle.

Look at them all running to Blacksburg today to say we support you, we mourn for you, we care about you. Then they'll return to Richmond and Washington and it's business as usual. They'll screw those kids just as they did the victims in San Ysidro, Killeen, on the LIRR, in Waco, OKC, Columbine and Jonesboro and many other places on the map and throughout history. It's the American way.

We need DEEDS now, not WORDS.

Posted by: dirrtysw | April 17, 2007 1:42 PM

the tragedy here is that there is ANY political dialogue at a moment like this.
O'Reilly and his sidekick Michelle were disgusting last night..
this is sad, a tragedy.
Instead of political maneuvering, we need to look at ourselves as a society....we are losing...

Posted by: dannymoxie | April 17, 2007 2:16 PM

This is the commonwealth of Virginia, one of the most Second Amendment-friendly states in the Union--with legislators who carry their guns into the state capitol by mistake and laugh it off afterwards.

If even those guys wouldn't loosen the state's gun regulations to let college kids pack heat on campus, that's saying something.

Posted by: What state are we talking about? | April 17, 2007 3:09 PM

The guy from the NRA has a point. What would have been the result if this guy had been confronted by a student as heavily armed as he was. It is unlikely he would have killed anymore than 33 people. The guy, reportedly, only had a 9mm and a .380. He even had to reload. It is truly amazing that he killed that many people with those two guns. The guys in Columbine had much higher powered rifles, if I am not mistaking, and killed fewer people. Imagine if this guy had an AK. He would have likely killed 50 or more people.

Posted by: Nathan | April 17, 2007 5:12 PM

while another armed person may have stopped the shooter you need to add some caveats with that statement. that the other armed person be willing to shoot & kill the shooter if necessary. that the other armed person have the training to make sure they not accidently shoot or kill any bystanders. that the other shooter keep their gun safe so that other people not find their gun & use it themselves.

didn't the post run an article a few years back on people in this area who had killed others in self defense?

while there are some students who are mature enough (like we all were) i'm sure that every one of us remembers the jerks who either drunk or sober did the most amasingly assinine stuff. could you picture them packing heat?

Posted by: quark | April 17, 2007 5:29 PM

You may be surprised to find that as of 2:00 p.m. yesterday, the NRA had NO COMMENT on their website other than to express their condolences to the families. In contrast, the Brady Campaign had already begun using the information in an anti-gun assault by as early as noon. They were also asking readers to use the tragedy as motivation to enlist in the Million Mom March. In all reality, this appears to have less to do with gun control than with anti-depressants - the often ignored facet in many of these shootings.

Posted by: Anti-Climacus | April 17, 2007 7:21 PM

The difference between we the members of and you sir is that we are discussing and debating the issues amongst ourselves, not making half cocked and mis-informed statements to the public just to "spin" the story. Some of us, unlike those in the media such as yourself, have enough respect for the victims and their families that we refuse to dance in the blood of the victims to benefit our cause.

Posted by: Bob Cavalcante | April 18, 2007 12:39 AM


"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."
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine

Posted by: SoMD | April 18, 2007 7:25 AM

This kid gave out so many warning signs, from setting a fire in the dorm to writing works for class so violent that he was referred for counseling, that I wonder what is going to happen from a legal standpoint. I'm not a lawyer, god knows, but if the school had strong reason to believe Cho was violent and mentally ill, I can see multi-, multi-, multi-million dollar lawsuits being brought by the parents of the dead kids.

And I also think the idea, as some have proposed, of letting college kids carry weapons on campus so they can deal with this is little short of hilarious. One can only imagine the consequences of arming 20 year old guys who then go out and drink 15 beers on a Saturday night.

Posted by: Jack | April 18, 2007 9:32 AM

it goes without saying that a society without any guns would be safer than one where everyone owned one. The question becomes: what is the proper balance between those two extremes that would still insure the safety of the greatest number of people? Our country is at one end of the scale while many others, where private gun ownership is practically unheard of, are at the other end. Regrettably, from my point of view, American society is perfectly satisfied with the trade-offs of easy access to guns. What that tells me is that Va. Tech is just another record waiting to be broken.

Posted by: ralph | April 18, 2007 11:44 AM

to anti-climatus - maybe the reason the brady's responded so quickly is because jim brady was shot by a mentally ill person with a gun. i tend to respond to issues that i have some tie to & i would say that jim brady & his wife sarah have a deep understanding of exactly what it means to be shot by a nut job with a gun. of course, the nra would say no comment. exactly what could they say?

Posted by: quark | April 18, 2007 12:20 PM

Stick: Those writings are a record of this man's deteriorating mental status. The graphic images and violent fantasies had more to do with his growing instability. If he was taking anti-depressant medications as it has been reported, the chemical manipulation appropriate or not, theraputic or not, could have been a larger contributing factor. If you review the pharmacetical literature with drugs like Prozac and others, you will find suicidal ideation listed as a side effect, however rare. Suppose for one instant that he was in the midst of a schizophenic or paranoid mental illness that was undiagnosed, common at his age, and inappropriately medicated with an anti-depressant which might worsen symptoms as opposed to improving them. He was living among the best and brightest minds on the campus of VTU who despite their growing concerns could not effect a change in the end result of his down spiral. I don't see this as a failure of his parents, or the academics, or even the gun shop owner who sold the gun. In my opinion, it is an odd mixture of living in a truely free society, the cost of such, and the inability or refusal to recognize, diagnose, and theraputically assist those in society who might pose it's greatest risk.

Posted by: Rebecca, RN | April 18, 2007 10:58 AM
Anti-Climacus: I didn't ignore the possibility.

Posted by: Comment made in response to: Va. Tech: Report from the Killer's Block | April 18, 2007 12:30 PM

They ban my stuff Rebecca.

Posted by: Stick | April 18, 2007 2:03 PM


Instead of leaping to the conclusion that someone legally armed might have made a difference is stating that "all students be armed", you would do well to inform yourself of the laws already in place.

One, you must be 21. Secondly, you must be willing to submit to the application process. You're encouraged to seek training. And you must consciously decide to carry your weapon that day, knowing you may have to use it, but hoping you don't.

Posted by: Jay | April 18, 2007 6:01 PM

Jay, 21 is for Concealed Carry or new dealer handgun purchases. You can legally own a handgun in VA at 18 and can Open Carry. If you Conceal Carry, training is not "encouraged", but mandatory to get your CHP.

Carrying is no guarantee of anything, but it does even the odds. That's why Colts were known as "Equalizers".

I carry because when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.

Posted by: Bob Cavalcante | April 19, 2007 1:40 PM

Instead of backing off and behaving with stunned shock, so many of us want to revel in this event -- the inclination is to be an instant voyeur to our own stupidity (gun laws, mental health issues), to our neuroses, to others in their time of deepest grief. It is a little disgusting the rapidity with which we do this. It seemed like it took NPR minutes to set up shop on the campus. No one wanted them there. I personally have nothing whatsoever to do with the event, and hearing their - there is no other word for it - enthusiasm to cover the story was so off-putting I turned the radio off. I know I am not alone. The media needs to grow up. It was all just so predictable.

Posted by: walnuts | April 19, 2007 8:00 PM

Ralph is correct. There was an excellent article or op-ed piece in Slate today, stating that ho hum, yep Americans don't wanna crack down on guns, and well duh, mass murder is the price we're gonna pay. If you really seek to restrict access to guns that are meant to kill people, then one day (NOT IMMEDIATELY), one day five, ten years down the road, the overall death by handgun rate (lightbulb!) will be significantly reduced. But apparently a majority of us geniuses does not want that.

Posted by: walnuts | April 19, 2007 8:06 PM

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