News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thirty-three are killed, and the gun loonies come slithering from under their rocks

The 33 deaths at Virginia Tech hit me hard. For one thing I am a professor, although retired, but I have a reverence for young people preparing themselves and, consequently, the world for a bright future. I hold a special regard for colleague professors who guide them in their preparation. I think strongly that there is a sacredness in knowledge and the development and transmission of it. I see those young faces and the professors going about their gentle profession and the sense of loss overwhelms.

Another thing about this latest incident is that my cousin's husband, an expert on special education, retired from Virginia Tech. The family lives in a neighboring town.

Another incident for which I felt a connection was the killing of five people at the University of Iowa on November 1, 1991. The place where it all began, Van Allen Hall, was a place where I met a fellow graduate student each afternoon. At the time I was finishing graduate courses and made a 100-mile roundtrip commute each day. The man I met up with at Van Allen Hall rode with me, and I stopped by to pick him up there before we began the drive to our homes.

In that incident a brand new doctorate who was one of 300 in the world with his specialty in astro-physics killed three professors, a research assistant, and an associate vice president for academic affairs. He also shot an undergraduate who was working as a receptionist in the vice president's office. The young woman is now a paraplegac.

Even though I was working in South Dakota at the time of the incident, I could visualize the place and the people who worked there. It was a place where one quickly got the sense that important knowledge was being developed there.

The shooter, Gang Lu, a Chinese national, left letters about what his motives were. He was recognized as a brilliant scholar, and he was in contention for a special prize for his dissertation. The prize carried a cash award of $1,000. The prize was awarded to the researcher Lu shot to death.

This incident is one in a number of in which academics who feel somehow slighted and humiliated wreak vengeance on professors and peers. There is no information at this time that such was the motive at Virginia Tech, but it is the most prominent factor in incidents that erupt in what is intended to be the tranquil and thoughtful environment of a university campus.

Such occasions must be unbearable for the families and friends of those who have been killed. They affect the nation, indeed the world, so adversely. So it is a particularly offensive and egregious and unforgiveable matter when the NRA and its loonies turn it into an occasion for its cause by saying that if other students had been carrying weapons, the shooter would not have taken so many lives. I am a gun owner. As I write this, I can look at the wall to my left and see a rack of shotguns and a rifle. And behind me are two black powder muskets. I enjoy shooting sports, I respect firearms, but I do not think they have a place in moderating the factional and personal issues that exist in society. There are problems that need to be solved, but their best chance of being solved is at Virginia Tech and all the places that try to apply human knowledge and understanding to human concerns.

Making some people think they are being demeaned and rejected as lower-order creatures is a problem that higher education has not cogently addressed. Any ranking and indicating the worth of people through some hierarchical scheme is inherently violent. That is the premise that drives our American quest for liberty, equality, and true justice for all.

As for letting everyone be armed to settle their resentments and disputes, we have an elaborate, and expensive, and life-costing experiment in just that.

It is called Iraq.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States