The mourning after: The shooter who killed 32 students and himself at Virginia Tech on Monday morning has been identified as Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old senior English major. Cho reportedly left a long note in his dorm room explaining his actions and saying, “You caused me to do this.” Bloggers weigh in on what lessons can be gleaned from the tragedy—and the media’s response.
At AOL’s NewsBloggers, former Tech student and AOL employee Ian McFarlane posts two plays Cho wrote for a playwriting class they were taking together: “The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn’t have even thought of. Before Cho got to class that day, we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter. I was even thinking of scenarios of what I would do in case he did come in with a gun, I was that freaked out about him. When the students gave reviews of his play in class, we were very careful with our words in case he decided to snap. Even the professor didn’t pressure him to give closing comments.”
Bloggers were debating the issue of gun control from almost the moment the story broke, with gun-rights advocates speaking out loudly Monday. Color Vanity Fair writer James Wolcott unimpressed: “The notion that the answer to gun violence is to allow Good People to arm themselves and to keep guns out of the itchy paws of Bad People is a fatuous fantasy, particularly since the gun lobby and gun merchants work so strenuously to keep laws and regulations lax and loosy-goosy, regardless of the human consequences.”
Still, conservative Bull Dog Pundit at Ankle Biting Pundits pounces on a New York Times editorial calling for stricter gun-control laws: “[I]f we are going to have the debate about stricter gun control laws, shouldn’t we also have the conversation about whether or not the legislature’s refusal to allow students to arm themselves,, choosing instead to make Virginia Tech a ‘gun free zone’ (well, for everyone except, you know - the killer) might have helped stop the shooter before he killed so many people..”
Conservative blogger and Boston Herald columnist Jules Crittenden doesn’t see any point to the debate: “Are students with guns in their pockets going to stop a madman bent on mayhem? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on who is facing who. Depends on whether, when everyone’s running around with guns, cops and other citizens can figure out who the bad guy is. Too many variables to turn an act of madness into a political debate.”
The unseemliness of that debate has others wondering when it’s OK to use a tragedy to launch a policy discussion. John Podhoretz at National Review’s The Corner ponders the media’s tendency to dive right in: “The effort to shoehorn an event as devastating as this one into a predetermined set of ideas — like the need for gun control, or the need for the abolition of all gun controls — is an effort to make the unthinkable thinkable. Does this massacre seem to be utterly without cause? Well, then, we will find a cause in order to be able to wrap our minds around it, because when we have a cause we can determine a remedy.”
UNC law professor Eric Muller at Is That Legal? argues that the debate came too soon: “Let’s wait at least a day before trying to score political points, shall we?” Another prof, Eugene Volokh at The Volokh Conspiracy, thinks such debate is healthy but isn’t sure how soon is too soon: “[P]erhaps we ought to have a social ritual of grief and condolences first, policy analysis (even of the most cerebral sort) later, and perhaps the very immediacy of the tragedy may lead to unsound first thoughts about the policy questions.” Virginia Tech student Bryce Carter doesn’t mince words: “I want to declare that I am OFFENDED that people are allowing this to become a political debate. People are dead. My friends could be dead. Forget bickering about trivia. Now is not the time or the place.”
Conservative John Hinderaker at Power Line Blog argues that normally there’s “nothing wrong” with “politicizing” news: “This is a democracy, and politics is the process we use to resolve conflicts. … When a political group says that an issue shouldn’t be ‘politicized,’ it generally means that they are on the losing side of the political argument. … Still, I do think that the rush to draw gun-control conclusions from the Virginia Tech murders is unfortunate.”
Instead of debating the propriety of debating, others bloggers are analyzing the role of citizen journalists. Steve Fox at open-source reporting site Newsassignment.net questions the value of traumatic on-the-scene images like VT student Jamal Albarghouti’s ubiquitous cell-phone footage: “[T]he video had no inherent news value and told no story. It did have sounds of bullets being fired and screams. … Is such video responsible journalism? Are these the types of Citizen Journalists that people want to see?” New-media critic Jeff Jarvis sees the future at Buzz Machine: “I don’t think it will work to feed this live news through the big news organizations, exclusively. I see that … with scores of reporters each trying to get their piece of the student’s voice when … the student’s voice and account is already online for all to see, on a LiveJournal blog. The right thing to do is to point to that, to quote it, to link to it.”
BBC journalist Robin Hamman at Cybersoc has a thorough roundup of a few Virginia Tech students’ blogs, including this one by “Paul,” which details his friend’s experience getting shot in the hand. A blog called God Bless Virginia Tech features a single post: a list of the dead. Commenters leave notes updating one another on the statuses of victims.