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The Federalist Diaries


 Walks outside the Box, Part 2

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw, Irish literary critic, playwright and essayist,
1925 Nobel Prize for Literature, 1856-1950 

“Walks outside the Box” is about finding solutions when others shrug their shoulder, despair or offer palliatives.  In part 1, we looked at the constraints upon our decision-making which affected the solutions which we conceived.  We asked what better solution might we conceive to prevent mass killings if we took a walk outside the box, that is, if we thought without encumbrance by those constraints. 

          It was both interesting and sickening to hear all that went wrong and led to the killings at Virginia Tech.  Yet, the facts were not surprising, as we had explored in past essays circumstances in our lives which led to bad decisions.  What stuck in my mind was the reference to university students as “kids”, this contrasted with the right of these “kids” to have their personal information kept private, even from their parents.  (We should take note of research which asserts that the part of the brain which reasons matures in females at about age twenty-four, in males about age twenty-nine.)  Also, I recall watching an interview with a student who was a member of the Virginia Tech Gun Club;  the student said that, if he had been permitted to carry a gun, he would have intervened.  Finally, there was a statement that, had Federal law been enforced, the killer would not have been able to purchase a gun.  (I see a parallel to the incident preceding the World Trade episode, when an FBI agent’s report about terrorists was not forwarded by somebody in the chain of command:  somebody’s commission or omission had a lethal consequence.) 

          As for a solution to prevent mass killings, what might be done?  I find it disheartening that I have not heard a discussion about priorities and values, as was mentioned in part 1 of this essay.  Because of that, we conceive only limited solutions. For example, California Lieutenant John Garamendi said last week that cellular-telephone companies could enable campus police to alert students, even when cell phones were turned off.  That certainly would be worth discussing, but, as with the failure to enforce Federal law, students would be dependent on others to make decisions about their, the students’, lives.  Even with good intentions, others would make mistakes.  Yes, security should be improved in such a way, but it would be a flagrant mistake for students to depend on that security.  The most important and incontrovertible lesson from the Virginia Tech killings was that the students should look to themselves for protection. 

          What could students do?  Carrying guns on a campus would be repugnant and frightening to most people.  Perhaps making classroom doors more secure, just as is being done with cockpit doors?  But that would not help if the killer were already in the classroom.  And even if the killer were kept in the hallway, there is no assurance that he would not shoot through the wall or break the door with a barrage of bullets.  Let us walk outside the box and consider:  what could students do to incapacitate a killer without increasing danger to themselves?  (Notice that I did not say “creating danger”, as the students would already be in danger.)  A baseball to the head could incapacitate a killer;  yes, each student could carry a baseball in her backpack, but randomly throwing baseballs at a killer from a short distance could be effective only if coordinated and only if the “pitchers” had strength and good aim.   

          This leads us to consider other tools which could be used to incapacitate.  Yes, the killer might be killed, but in such a situation there should be no hesitation by students to act quickly.  If the killer died, that would be an unavoidable consequence of the killer’s action.  What could several, if not all, students in a classroom have with them which could stun, choke, numb or blind a killer?  A modified paintball gun?  A modified police bean-bag gun?  A miniature shotput? 

          I am not offering a solution here, but I hope to stimulate a conversation which would lead to a more effective solution than what is now being publicly discussed.  (By the way, no assertion is made than any solution would be one hundred percent effective.)  Importantly, in walking outside the box, we must be willing to unshackle ourselves from the constraints which confound our attempts at effective solutions.

April 26, 2007






























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