April 17, 2007

Pragmatism Of The Virginia Tech Massacre

Let's forget the politics & laws associated with this incident for a moment. What I'm going to try to do is look at what happened & what could have been done. It's Monday morning quarterbacking to be sure, but hopefully not without some merit.

The press has told us a few things - mainly the murderer was Asian & possibly here on a student visa. A few other tidbits but nothing of any real importance. Except that, if reports are true, the gunman used two 9mm pistols & fired presumably a minimum of 60 shots.

Bear with me as this will take a little bit for me to flesh out. First some excerpts from some articles that I hope will help with what I'll try to explain.

From this article I'd like to point out a few things:

"The shooting began about 7:15 a.m. on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston, a high-rise coed dormitory where two people died.

Police were still investigating around 9:15 a.m., when a gunman wielding two handguns and carrying multiple clips of ammunition stormed Norris Hall, a classroom building a half-mile away on the other side of the 2,600-acre campus."

Also from the same article:

"At least 15 people were hurt in the second attack, some seriously. Many found themselves trapped after someone, apparently the shooter, chained and locked Norris Hall doors from the inside.

Students jumped from windows, and students and faculty carried away some of the wounded without waiting for ambulances to arrive."

Again from the same article:

"Screams followed an instant later, and the banging continued. When students realized the sounds were gunshots, Calhoun said, he started flipping over desks to make hiding places. Others dashed to the windows of the second-floor classroom, kicking out the screens and jumping from the ledge of Room 204, he said."

More from the same link:

"The gunman first shot the professor in the head and then fired on the class, another student, Trey Perkins, told The Washington Post. The gunman was about 19 years old and had a 'very serious but very calm look on his face,' he said.

'Everyone hit the floor at that moment,' said Perkins, 20, of Yorktown, Va., a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. 'And the shots seemed like it lasted forever."

Still more:

"I think the university has blood on their hands because of their lack of action after the first incident,' said Billy Bason, 18, who lives on the seventh floor of the dorm."

Now from a different article we find the following:

"Trey Perkins, who was sitting in a German class in Norris Hall, told The Washington Post that the gunman barged into the room at about 9:50 a.m. and opened fire for about a minute and a half, squeezing off about 30 shots."

& more:

"The campus is centered on the Drill Field, a grassy field where military cadets practice. The dorm and the classroom building are on opposites sides of the Drill Field."

& again form the last linked article:

"Among the dead were professors Liviu Librescu and Kevin Granata, said Ishwar K. Puri, the head of the engineering science and mechanics department.

Librescu, was born in Romania and was known internationally for his research in aeronautical engineering, Puri wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

'His research has enabled better aircraft, superior composite materials, and more robust aerospace structures,' Puri said.

Granata served in the military and later conducted orthopedic research in hospitals before coming to Virginia Tech, where he and his students researched muscle and reflex response and robotics. Puri called him one of the top five biomechanics researchers in the country working on movement dynamics in cerebral palsy."

& now from a third article:

"There were multiple gunshot wounds in all the victims, even the least injured had multiple gunshot wounds, this guy was just, he was out to kill everyone he came in contact with, not just to shoot the gun, he was out to kill them,' said Dr. Joseph Cacioppo, an emergency room physician who treated the wounded."

& more:

"Authorities haven't released the names of the victims, but Israeli media reported that one of the dead was Liviu Librescu, an Israeli citizen and professor of engineering at the university.

Librescu's son told Israeli Army radio that his father tried to block his classroom door against the gunman and urged his students to flee."

Now I'll try to make my point.

From the articles I excerpted from I think I have a very general idea of what occurred. Not a great idea of what occurred, but maybe enough to work with. Keep in mind though that I'm going on what I quoted above. If new info comes out it may alter some of my conclusions (although I'm going to try to be general enough to avoid that).

At a little after 7 a.m. local time a murderer started his killings. He did so on the 4th floor of a dorm. 2 people were killed & several others injured but it's not clear if they were all injured by the murderer or some were injured as they tried to escape.

2 hours later he shows up across campus & starts his murdering frenzy again. This time we have a slightly clearer picture of what he did. He walked into one classroom, shot the teacher (eliminating any effective leadership) & then went after the students, shooting each one multiple times if he thought they were not killed. he had chained at least some of the doors to prevent escape & he apparently had a good deal of ammunition on him. In one classroom he lingered for over a minute firing an estimated 30 shots. He seemed (to at least one student) to be calm & deliberate about his actions.

The reactions of his victims were covered. Most either tried to flee or tried to hide & were generally panicked. One teacher tried to keep the murderer from entering the classroom, but was killed during his attempt at stalling the murderer. At least one student blamed the school for not doing enough to prevent the 2nd shooting after the 1rst occurred.

Virginia Tech is one of the few public civilian schools left with a martial program of study (The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets). At least one professor had prior military training. Virginia Tech has a very strong engineering program as well as a decent athletics program.

The murderer should not have been able to do what he did. Was it because he had superior cunning or skill that he accomplished what he so gruesomely set out to accomplish? No; he just had balls. Or rather more than most of the people he looked upon as prey.

Being unarmed is not a desirable state, especially when someone who is armed wants to kill you. Escaping if at all possible is a very valid response. But when flight isn't an option then fight becomes the only appropriate response. It seems that some folks at VT opted to hide. For some this was successful, but I imagine not very successful for others.

I don't think it was so much a lack of courage on the part of the victims as it was conditioning. They simply didn't know they were supposed to fight back.

I'd ask you to read The Smallest Minority's post entitled The Right To Feel Safe. It sums up part of the conditioning that led to the reaction of the folks at VT. Now cruise over to Annika's place for her piece on the VT massacre. I know Annika fairly well. She's bright & resourceful as well as an engaging 28 year old. She's also a Californian who is attending law school. From what I know of her history & where her demographics lie she should have been susceptible to the same conditioning that led a student at VT to squarely blame the school. But she didn't. In fact she became a gun owner recently (unfortunately I can't take any credit for that one). & by the post of hers that I linked she gets it. She understands that she is the only one who can be responsible for her own safety.

A lot of folks don't get it. & therefore when they face the possibility that they must fend for themselves they have no plan. so they panic. They either run or try to hide. For some reason fighting back isn't often an option that they realize they have.

& yes- I'm talking about going unarmed against an armed murderer. I'm also talking about doing so on the 2nd or 4th floor of a room that he just entered. If you are very optimistic you can tell yourself that he won't try to kill you. If you're very logical you'll conclude that if you do nothing then he can kill you at his leisure, but if you act appropriately (& aggressively) then you may stall him for a while or if you're very lucky you might get out of that room alive. I'm not talking about charging into a room where an armed murderer is trapped - I'm talking about exploring you're only option when faced with a murder in the doorway of a taller than ground level room.

If 3 or 4 students had rushed the murderer there's a chance that they'd have all been shot. But being shot is not like it is in the movies. Many more people are shot that live than are shot that die. In any case one or two may have succeeded in disarming the murderer.

Some of the faculty had military training (at least one professor & presumably at least a few others). There was also a corps of cadets on campus! Yet no one thought to call on the cadets to intervene. I would be very surprised if the faculty with military experience were ever consulted in drawing up contingency plans for such emergencies, let alone asked to assume any active role in implementing any plans.

But it has been preached from every rooftop of every school that resistance is bad. We even had a politician proposing using books as bullet proof shields as a solution to school violence. Not too long ago a teacher in Texas was "re-assigned" because he dared teach his students to fight back even if unarmed. For a number of reasons political & cultural we simply do not on the whole wish to face the idea that violence is an acceptable option in any situation.

That, & not the school's reaction (or lack thereof) contributed to the deaths & injuries at VT.

Michelle Malkin has a letter from one of the students at VT posted. I'll excerpt a little of it:

"It was just a regular day in class; the door was open and we heard a pop-pop-popping noise. Sounded like some kind of construction but it was getting disruptive so we went to close the door, and one of the girls stepped out in the hallway to see what it was. She saw the gun and ran back inside the room and slammed the door shut and we all got down on the floor.

We heard pretty much continuous shooting for the next minute or so, and I said, 'Shouldn't we barricade the door,' because we were sitting ducks with no way out inside that room if he opened the door. A couple more people floated the idea that 'We need to barricade the door, NOW.' But I was too scared to even move, much less move the teacher's desk.

Finally one of the guys in the front of the classroom was brave enough to get up and move the desk in front of the door to prevent outside entry. About twenty seconds later, the shooter rattled the doorknob trying to get in. When he couldn't get in he fired two shots through the door (single solid piece of wood) and left. We heard him go in to 206 (the room across the hall) and shoot the people in that room. If we hadn't put the barricade up when we did, I and all my classmates would be dead."

Now barricading themselves in the classroom was probably a good idea. But they had enough time to try to arm themselves with whatever they could find lying around & set up an ambush in case the barricade was ineffective. I can appreciate that they were scared as hell but again they had no conditioning or forethought about such matters. The first thing they thought of was escaping, but since that was not an option they chose to hide. It worked out for them but it just as well may not have. Busting down a door isn't that difficult & I assume the thought of easier prey was the only thing that kept the murderer from putting the effort into it.

I once worked for a company with a very strict "no weapons" policy. One of my bosses was explaining it to me one day so I handed over a pen I had in my pocket. he asked why I was giving that to him & I told him I was turning in my weapon. He kinda laughed & told me that a pen wasn't a weapon. I looked at him rather icily & said, "Give me the pen back then try to hurt me". I don't think he ever quite got the point I was trying to make, but hopefully you just did.

Ideally some of the students or at least some of the faculty should have been armed with a firearm. we're talking about engineering students & teachers (not to mention cadets) so I'm thinking that they should have been able to safely handle a firearm. Hell, if you can drive a car you can safely handle a firearm, but that's another rant.

Politically carrying a firearm wasn't an option & likely won't be - not on a campus (though I would not fault anyone for doing so despite the prohibitions). You probably could get away with carrying a small knife though. There are also a number of common items that make great blunt impact or stabbing weapons, such as pens & small flashlights & such. In the worst case there's usually something in any classroom that can make an effective impromptu weapon.

Again I won't fault them for barricading the door instead of charging the murderer in the hallway (though I wouldn't have thought less of them for that). But they should have been preparing to defend themselves as best they could instead of hoping the desk & locked door would keep them safe.

They simply did not have the mental skills to deal as effectively as they could with the situation, & that is the fault of society in general more than anything else. We disdain violence & those who wield it, therefore it's not being taught that sometimes violence is not merely the only option, but the best option.

The murderer seems to have been determined to kill as many folks as possible. Pleading with him wouldn't have obtained mercy. Reasoning with him was not going to be effective. He was wielding force & the only thing that could have stopped him was someone else wielding force. It seems he was acting alone & out of some unknown motive.

But what worries me about schools & hospitals & other public places where arms are proscribed is that they're very easy targets for a group with an agenda. Nalchik & Beslan come to mind as examples. As bad as it was at VT yesterday we're very fortunate that it was not a concerted effort by multiple individuals who had some other purpose to further by killing as many people as possible.

The ideal solution would be to remove the prohibitions from carrying firearms in schools & hospitals & other such places. I doubt that'll happen as the idea of common folks protecting themselves seems abhorrent to those who could make those kinds of changes.

so if you work or attend school at a place where firearms are prohibited then you can either carry anyway (I won't blame you but you should research the consequences if you get caught) or carry a less effective means of defense (such as a knife or sturdy flashlight or small chain). Figure out what otherwise innocent looking item you could stuff into your backpack that would make a decent defensive implement. At the least you should always make note of your surroundings & what could be used as a weapon if need be. Hell, make it a game - spot 3 objects in every room you walk into that you could use as weapons.

Most importantly stick to the basics - fight or flight. If you can get away by all means haul that ass out the door - or window - or wall if you can punch your way through it quickly enough. But if you cannot run then fight like hell. & encourage others to fight alongside you if you're not alone.

Your mindset is your most valuable asset. If you are mentally prepared then you'll come out much better than if you were caught mentally flat-footed 9so to type). It's hard to break the conditioning that we've had (especially folks under 30 or so) but it's necessary if you want to make it out of such a horrible situation as best you can. Most folks are up to it if they just give themselves the chance. No matter what it's better to take action (fight or flight) than to rely on chance or the tender mercies of a murderer bent on making record books with your life.

As I said ideally I'd tell you to carry a firearm, but that's not always possible with the legal atmosphere you may find yourself in. Instead I'm telling you to grab sharp sticks & rocks to protect yourself & do your bit for society. I wish it were different.

There'll be much talk of the politics of the VT massacre in the coming months. But the most important thing is for you to try to prepare yourself to handle such a situation. Odds are you will never have to but it won't hurt to try to make yourself at least mentally ready just in case the odds let you down.

Posted by Publicola at April 17, 2007 06:44 AM | TrackBack

Good advice, but still a bit too tool-oriented. Yes, defensive tools are helpful. They, especially guns, increase your reach, and make it possible to inflict damage with less accurate hit placement. But your open hands (the base of the palm works just as well as a fist and doesn't tend to hurt you as much), the edge of your forearms, near your wrists, your feet, and your forehead are all effective weapons. Most important is hitting the guy where it hurts him most. A knee will break with 12 pounds of force. Kick or push the front of the knee of the leg supporting his weight. Elbows are also prone to breakage, though not as easy mechanically. An adams apple will crush when hit with a spread thumb and forefinger. A knuckle-hit to the temple can be deadly. The side of the neck, upper arm, and thigh are very sensitive to hits (press on your own to find out exactly where). A hard down-strike with your foot to the front of the attacker's ankle will slow him down. An upward strike under the rib cage on his right-hand side (your left) can damage his liver. Kidney punches on the back are brutal. Your forehead can break his nose.

If you have a knife, stab, don't slash, these same sensitive places. A screwdriver works as well as a knife, and you can often carry one where knives are forbidden.

And don't stop after one or two hits. Keep hitting sensitive spots until the attacker stops resisting. Then hold him down: one person per limb plus a boot on his neck. And more strikes if he starts resisting again.

But you're right. Mindset is the most important weapon. Don't stop fighting until you end the attack.

If he has obviously decided to kill you, all social norms are null and void. If you can't run, fight hard.

Posted by: Bill St. Clair at April 18, 2007 04:44 AM

True dat. :)

An open hand with the right attitude will be more effective than a 12 gauge with the wrong one, but mainly I was trying to focus on improvised "force multipliers" if you will & with folks who may not have the physical advantages that a fairly in shape male would. Not that it's hopeless without some sort of weapon - but I'm all about making things easier for the good guys (& gals).

The mindset was what got me the most - the "hide or flight" mode that seems to be developing. Troubling it is.

But you are correct & as always give good heed. :)

& if I may - in your post on your comments to my post you added something too useful for me not to include here:

"And I forgot to mention gouging the attackers eyeballs or a kick to his groin."

Thanks Bill. Hopefully anyone who reads what we've written will never have a reason to put any of it to use.

Posted by: Publicola at April 18, 2007 06:38 AM

I forget who said it, but, "An armed society is a polite society." Somebody needed to show Cho some .40 S&W courtesy.

Posted by: Dan Hammond at April 18, 2007 10:39 AM

"...Many more people are shot that live than are shot that die..."

I'm resolved to take at least 4 shots before I stop my charge and go down. That doesn't mean I've stopped punching, clawing, choking, and jabbing, it just means I need to be within reach of the enemy before the 4th shot. (Assuming an ambush at the doorway isn't available).

Some may say 4 shots is too high. But since what you CAN do has more to do with your mindset than logistics, I'm guessing I should increase my resolve to, say, half a dozen rounds. That should ensure I can clear the distance between myself and an attacker in any type of structure where fleeing isn't an option.

The only thing I'm not quite sure of is if SWAT will show up, clear the structure, and allow medics to get to me before I bleed out. Another way waiting on SWAT causes the death of more innocents.

Still, these options aren't available to the elderly or infirm, so they, more then most, MUST have access to firearms. Too bad that holocaust survivor allowed government to leave him disarmed... again.

Posted by: henry at April 18, 2007 10:32 PM

"Thanks Bill. Hopefully anyone who reads what we've written will never have a reason to put any of it to use."

Amen to that.

Posted by: Bill St. Clair at April 20, 2007 05:10 PM