Grieving Virginia Tech's loss

Published 11:25 pm Monday, April 23, 2007

By By Tray Smith
In her 1969 book, "On Death and Dying," Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the five stages of grief humans endure after encountering a personal tragedy. Today, journalists and public officials are leading us through the five stages of grief society endures after encountering a tragedy, which begins with: 1) granting media attention to the tragedy not because of the threat it poses to society at large but because of its uniqueness, followed by 2) victimizing everyone who lives in the country in the aftermath of the tragedy, even if the vast majority of the populace survives the tragedy unharmed, 3) blaming someone in authority other than the individual who caused the atrocity in the first place, 4) highlighting the need to ensure that such tragedies do not reoccur, and ending with 5) showering victims of such tragedies with media spotlight so that they may be converted into moral authorities on issues of national importance overnight.
So is the case with the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech, news of which has filled TV screens across America for the past week. So is the case with the current state of news coverage, which is religiously following the aforementioned cycle. Unfortunately, amidst its grief for the victims and hate for the murderous actions that took place at Virginia Tech, the American public and the mainstream media have shown little appetite for breaking away from that cycle and rationally analyzing last week's massacre.
There are several problems with the media lead grief cycle, and I will start with the first stage, granting unlimited media attention to a tragedy. Often times over emphasis on an event leads to a disproportionate reaction. For instance, because Cho Seung Hui used a handgun as a weapon of mass murder, some individuals will inevitably conclude that the right to own a handgun should be severely limited for everyone However, should one take the time to think rationally about the implications of such an action, he would realize that further restrictions on the right to bear arms will cause far more problems than they will solve. The same thing could be said about 9/11. Our anger and furor at the terrorist attacks on our soil compelled us not only to intervene in Iraq, but to begin a campaign for regime change that continues to this day as part of our likely ill-fated initiative to transform the entire Middle East into a basin of freedom and peace.
The problem with the second stage of societal grief, victimizing everyone within the country for events that only directly impact a select few, is that expressions falling in the "this is an attack on all of our freedoms" category distract our focus from the actual victims of the tragedy and cause us to view civilization itself as the victim. Therefore, we focus on what we can do as a society to prevent such a thing from ever happening again instead of what we can do as individuals to assist our fellow Americans in their grief. That sentiment eventually leads us to step four, but first:
The third stage of public grief, which I would estimate we spend more time in than any other, is the stage of blaming those in authority for the tragedy that took place. Many now question whether or not administrators at Virginia Tech followed the right protocol during the two hour interval that separated Hui's shooting sprees. But those who question the actions of the administrators forget that hindsight is always 20/20. Such second guessing is foolhardy and it serves no purpose. In addition, no one seems to know exactly what those administrators should have done because there are several scenarios for catastrophe other than the one that eventually took place. However, those who second guess the administrators do so only because it makes them feel more secure. Believing that the Virginia Tech massacre happened only because of the incompetence of school officials or that 9/11 happened only because the Bush and Clinton administrations inadequately focused on terrorism allows us to ignore the reality that such tragic events could occur anywhere, anytime. Indeed, that they will occur in some places at some times. And our minds rest in peace when we ignore the true evil that exists in this world, and the madmen who carry out evil tasks.
The fourth stage of grief, ensuring that such tragedies never happen again, can be productive, as long as we, the people, are rationale. We must not think, for instance, that banning guns would end murder anymore than banning terrorism has ended terror. In both instances, we face madmen willing to end their own lives so they may take the lives of others. After the Virginia Assembly shelved a bill allowing arms on college campuses last year, a spokesman from Virginia Tech praised the action because, "this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus." How safe do they feel now? Just because the government says that you cannot drive a car without insurance does not mean that every driver has it. Just because the government says that marijuana is illegal does not mean that no one smokes it. And just because the government gives a complex the egregious label "gun-free zone" does not mean that no one is going to smuggle a weapon inside. Teachers and students should be allowed to carry guns on college campuses, and administrators at the middle school, high school and college level should be required to remain armed. Allowing the well intentioned to terminate threats before they create mayhem is the only way to save more lives in the future
For years, advocates such as Cindy Sheehan and James Brady have sought to influence public opinion by using the credibility they gained from personal experiences. Fortunately, no such advocate has emerged yet from the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre. Unfortunately, while those who suffered through this tragedy will likely have different opinions on issues such as gun control, the media will most certainly limit its spotlight to those who agree with its point of view.
As those in Virginia mourn their tremendous loss, we should support them in their grief. As a society, we should rationally answer the questions that confront us, instead of irrationally reacting to the events at Virginia Tech. And we should never let those who take freedom from the many lead us to policies that restrict freedom for everyone. That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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