My first reactions to the VA shootings were not to the shootings themselves, but to the reactions of others. The first thing that struck me was the amount and intensity of emotion around the shootings, in stark contrast to the lack of emotion around the ongoing daily deaths in Iraq. Now, this wasn’t a political feeling. It was a question in my mind of why the deaths of American students deserve more emotional reaction than the ongoing deaths of insurgents, Iraqi civilians, and American service people. Have we just become so used to ongoing death in the service of war that it seems less terrible than the relatively rare school shootings? Is it because the victims were college kids and faculty who we feel did nothing to deserve it? There is still a genocide going on in Darfur, but I only ever hear about it on NPR, and even then, only rarely.
Now I understand that because these victims are ones that we readily identify with, i.e. this could have been us, or our brother, or our sister, the situation takes on a reality and immediacy that we don’t feel for a conflict taking place thousands of miles away. And despite not having any clear goals for being in Iraq, we can at least ascribe some purpose for why people are dying there (just not any good ones in my opinion). These shootings seem random, out of control and terrifying in a way that institutionalized violence never does.
Of course, as we are wont to do, in a frantic attempt at understanding and controlling this kind of thing, assholes from all points on the political spectrum have used this attack as support for their positions. Gun control crazies from both sides sounded off, and of course the whole video game violence mavens popped their heads up.
While it gives no feeling of comfort, and no solution for the issue, there have been a couple of steady truths in human existence that apply to these shootings. People do stupid shit to one another, and people who are really dedicated to doing that stupid shit usually find a way to do it regardless of the protections you have in place. There’s really only so much protection you can practically have from the world around you, and it’s important to not let our immediate feelings of fear and loss drive decisions that do little to actually protect us, and instead serve only to calm our fears.