No easy answers

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The shootings at Virginia Tech have weighed heavily on the nation s heart since the news of the mass killings broke last Monday. In the ensuing week, I have watched some of the television coverage, in very small doses, and read a large number of newspaper and magazine articles on the tragedy, which I found much more balanced and accurate.

The tragic incident has raised a number of questions and issues in its aftermath. Many policy makers and pundits are again debating gun control issues while others are analyzing federal privacy laws and how they might have contributed to the killer s ability to live on campus even though he was violent and mentally ill.

For me, a key issue is the overwhelming amount of violent subject matter that pervades society. Children, often times young males, spend hour upon hour in front of a television or computer screen playing extremely violent video games. This type of activity isolates children and allows them to play out their frustrations in a make-believe world where problems are solved by shooting anyone or anything that gets in the way of mastering the game. This can t be healthy for young minds and is a poor substitute for dealing with real-life problems, such as alienation, poor self-esteem and bullying. Sadly enough, violent content will only be changed if the market demands it. This will require a nationwide effort by parents or other concerned individuals who are willing to flex their muscles by refusing to buy violent video games or by boycotting violent movies at the box office.

Another contributing factor to school shootings and copycat incidents is the air time given to the killer or killers. It is my opinion that NBC erred greatly by broadcasting segments of the killer s video and photographs that were sent to the network sometime between the two shootings at Virginia Tech. I believe their decision to air that footage comes close to being criminally negligent and is without a doubt an ethical mistake. You will notice I am not using the killer s name, because I don t want to give him more publicity. I would rather read about the victims and the lives they led than what might have been going on in the mind of a twisted, sick individual. The Virginia Tech killer made mention of the two boys who were responsible for the Columbine school shooting. They were heroes to him, and he knew too much about these two teenagers because of all the media coverage given to them after Columbine.

I would love to see the TV networks and 24-hour news shows unite together and pledge to blackout material provided by anyone perpetrating such a horrible crime. By airing the killer s rantings and taunting photos, NBC was glorifying the killer and his actions. This was an individual who felt as if he was picked upon and ignored. He decided to gain attention in the most horrible way possible and the networks played into his demands, even if it was posthumously. This only serves to motivate other sick people to seek infamy in the same way. Human decency supercedes the public s right to know in this case.

In my mind, the image of the killer fades as I focus on the photos of all those vibrant young people and brave faculty members who lost their lives so tragically on April 16. It is their faces I see and it is for them that I weep. I read about their lives and pray for their families. And even in the most horrible of circumstances, there are stories of hope and goodness that arise from the pain and suffering. Foremost in my mind is the sacrifice shown by one of the teachers who was also a Holocaust survivor. Liviu Libresca used his body to bar the door from the killer, ultimately giving his life for the lives of 15 students.

After much reflection, it has become clear to me that there is no magic solution for preventing future school shootings. We should continue to seek answers, but I believe the best response to the Virginia Tech tragedy is to start in our own homes. As parents, we must talk to our children and spend time with them. We must steer them away from negative and violent influences and seek professional help and counseling if we sense our child is dealing with emotional issues. We must teach our children to love others regardless of skin color, economic situation or social class. It is always heartbreaking to think how one act of kindness could have changed the heart of a killer. Schools must also continue to be vigilant in their efforts to combat bullying, and a zero tolerance policy should be adopted in all situations.

As I told my own sons, in the end, God is still in control, and in situations like these, we are reminded that none of us are promised a certain amount of days on this earth so we must make the most of each day we are given. And those days are best spent loving those God has placed in our lives.