Book Review – Virginia Tech (Make Sure it Doesn’t Get Out)

Virginia Tech – Make Sure It Doesn’t Get Out

David Cariens, 2014

In my research and study preparing myself to teach the new state certified Active Shooter course, I came across this book, written about the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007.   The author writes:

What is my goal in writing this book? There are three main goals: first, to expose the abdication of leadership and authority by politicians, school officials, and law enforcement personnel in connection with all aspects of the Virginia Tech tragedy; second, to raise public awareness about what happened at Virginia Tech before, during, and after the shooting, and in so doing give support to the Virginia Tech families’ efforts to bring about changes in state and federal laws to tighten school security; and third, to help all families understand what they can do in insisting that universities and colleges have in place effective security measures and that those measures are understood by faculty, staff, and students.

Cariens’ book is the blunt, raw, counterpoint to the soft-focus, committee-written, make-no-waves official reports generated by university and government officials about this incident.  In his words:

A variety of causes— including broken communications, misunderstandings of our laws on privacy, failure to follow emergency procedures as written, and the incompetence of some people in positions of power— played into the terrible events before, on, and after April 16, 2007. There were a variety of interacting causes that aided and abetted Cho’s shooting rampage.

PRE-EVENT WARNING SIGNS

Cariens details the life history of the Virginia Tech (VT) shooter, particularly all the behavioral problems observed by VT faculty, staff and students.  He also provides an in-depth report on all the warning signs that existed, that were ignored by the VT bureaucracy.  He correctly notes that bureaucratic inertia and concerns about lawsuits from the shooter’s family over privacy issues, and desire to protect individual careers more than students or the general public caused the bureaucrats to err on the side of inaction.  That inaction ultimately led to the loss of many lives.

Cariens advocates: If we will finally face the hard facts and realities of what led to these shootings, if we can make people in positions of authority accountable for their actions or inactions, we can prevent some of these kinds of shootings from happening again. We can make it a crime for a university president and school officials to ignore warning signs; we can adopt laws that keep guns out of the hands of those who have been deemed a threat to themselves and others.

MAKING THE CASE AGAINST VIRGINIA TECH

The main text of the book is essentially the legal case against Virginia Tech, as filed by the survivors in their successful multi-million dollar lawsuit that found the state of Virginia had failed in many ways in their responsibility to protect students.

He points out discrepancies in statements made, actions not taken, and devotes an entire chapter to specific criticism of the governor’s review panel, stating: some of the most damning evidence against Virginia Tech, Virginia law enforcement officials, and the politicians in Richmond is missing in the error-ridden report’s content and in the circumstances surrounding its writing.

The report was done by bureaucrats & state officials with a vested interest in painting the rosiest picture possible, writing in passive voice to avoid naming names and holding individuals responsible.   One chapter is titled “Politics is the Art of Keeping From People The Things They Most Need to Know”, another is titled “Denial and Deception”.

LAWSUITS

The book includes details from other (similar) incidents, with specific focus on other lawsuits and findings against law enforcement and administrators. The lawsuit against the state of Virginia is discussed in depth.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Cariens is aligned with the Brady Campaign, and advocates for new gun laws several times in the book.  Many of his recommendations are valid regardless of opinion on gun rights, for example:

School administrators and politicians, may not have the safety of our loved ones as a primary goal. All too often a toxic mix of concerns for budgets, fundraising, and careers trump safety with tragic consequences. Families must recognize that they play a vital role in ensuring school safety by demanding that people be held accountable for their actions or inactions. Fourth, and finally, parents and families must put political differences aside and recognize that improving campus safety is a bipartisan goal for all to pursue.

He advises parents considering schools to ask about emergency plans, campus wide warning systems, what training is provided to students, campus police readiness and relationship with local and state police, campus weapon policies, mental health response to troubled students, policies handling harassment and parental notification.  All those issues are important.

YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN

While he does not recognize it, the real story Cariens tells in his book is simply “you are on your own”.  Bureaucrats and administrators will always be risk-averse, slow to enact new programs, fearful of lawsuits, and quick to delay, deny, deter and even lie to protect their own careers and avoid responsibility.

Even after Texas created a state-certified program, developed by the state police academy with input from a national active-shooter law enforcement training program, to train and certify teachers to carry in K-12 schools, the cowardly administrators and bureaucrats of Texas school districts, rural and urban, have refused to approve teachers that have graduated from that training to carry. They believe that the likelihood that an armed teacher would make an error that would result in injury/death/lawsuit than the likelihood that an incident would occur and an armed teacher could save lives by taking action.  The bureaucrats have no data to support this fear; it’s all coming from human nature (“it’ll never happen to me so I don’t need to prepare/train/equip for that situation” is the world’s most widely used self-defense plan) and the natural state of bureaucrats to say “no” until the consequences of “no” become worse than the consequences of “yes”.

More about that class is here.  We are offering it again in March 2018, at the Saddle River Range in Conroe, Texas.

Post Virginia Tech, particularly after the families won the lawsuit, many colleges and schools have improved many areas: emergency plans, notification, lock down, police response.  The solution Cariens refuses to consider is the obvious one: when all mitigation and prevention measures fail, and the event is occurring, the best way to end it is with immediate armed response.  It’s the solution law enforcement agencies train for, and it should be the solution armed citizens should train for as well.