School shootings are not and cannot be predictable

Four and a half months have now passed since the shootings at Virginia Tech, and eight years have gone by since Columbine. The former event is fading into history, and the latter is already there. Of course, there are and will be periodic calls for memorials, but the events themselves have already entered the history books and will not return unless prompted by another tragedy of equal ferocity. Fear is nascent now. The most visceral sorts of mistrust aroused by what we momentarily see as menace in each and every other human is gone, buried within our psyches. But it can return, and when another slaughter of our nation’s children is streamed through the televisions of Middle America, the fear will make itself known once again.

We try (and have tried) many methods to rid ourselves of that fear. A particular favorite, with regards specifically to the “school shootings,” is to commission a report detailing probable causes of the shooting. Whether those causes are related specifically to the disorders suffered by the shooter or to the environment in which the shooter was nurtured, the conclusion derived from them is always the same: “This tragedy could have been prevented if only step A was taken at time B with regards to person C.” Every shooting is labeled as something that was preventable and something that can be safeguarded against in the future.

This would indeed be a reassurance-and a productive way to stop the somewhat periodic killings that seem to occur in educational institutions today to boot-if it did not ignore the one constant among all of these events. All of the killings are. shootings. Those that died left this earth on the point of a bullet. If the killers had not clutched guns in their hands, there would have been no Columbine, no Paducah and no Virginia Tech.

Certainly it is true that there were other factors that contributed to these mass slayings, and perhaps those that want weapons badly enough would not be deterred from acquiring them by any legal measures, but is there any other way to reliably prevent that sort of violence? Each and every school shooting differs, so the precautions taken for one can not reliably be used in the event of another. As the state of Virginia’s report on the Virginia Tech shooting notes: “The panel researched reports of multiple shootings on campuses for the past 40 years, and no scenario was found in which the first murder was followed by a second elsewhere on campus.”

These events cannot be predicted. There is no way to prepare a campus or a school for those who will kill within it. The only reliable way to ensure that an occurrence like Virginia Tech’s is minimized is to take away the guns.

Andrew Hamner is a freshman majoring in journalism and may be contacted at