Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sometimes a Campus Shooting is Just a Shooting

Imagine there is an argument half a mile from your house.  Someone is shot.  The perpetrators run, and it's not clear in what direction.  You are minding your own business in your house.  What would you do?  Depending on where you live, your answer is most likely nothing.  Unless there is reason to think the perpetrators are headed for your house, you probably wouldn't even know about it. 

But imagine you're not in your house.  Your in a class at a community college, and there is a shooting half a mile away, on the other side of campus.  This is what happened yesterday at Skyline College, a community college in San Bruno, CA.  And let me tell you, the response wasn't "nothing."  The campus locked down, then evacuated.  SWAT teams were all over the place.  Classes were canceled for the evening, and then for today while the investigation continued.  Why such a huge reaction for an incident in which a single person was shot and no one was killed?

Because it happened on a college campus, and we as a nation are absolutely terrified about shootings at schools and on college campuses.  When we open up the "shooting on college campus" file drawer in our minds, what comes out is really awful.  We perceive college students as sitting ducks, vulnerable to violent rampages.  And we are afraid of missing something, or branding something as small when it turns out to be really big.  We are afraid of Virginia Tech. 

Obviously there are some contexts that warrant bigger responses than others.  A shooting 10 blocks away in a high crime area of New York City is less alarming than a shooting half a mile from the White House where the gunman is yelling political slogans.  A shooting where the motive and perpetrator are known is less alarming than something random.  But at the heart of it, I have to ask whether all violence on a college campus has to be treated like the entire place is under siege, and to wonder what it is that they thought they knew at Skyline yesterday that I don't know.


Anonymous said...

Looks like California's gun-control laws don't actually prevent criminals bent on using them to commit felonies. Of course, they DO guarantee that nobody -- NOBODY -- on that campus can do anything more effective than sound the alarm.

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
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