Should they have locked down the campus?

(note: i wrote this as a letter to the editor on salon.com, but thought it was worth repeating here.)

We may be on the other side of the country, but students, faculty and staff at the University of Washington feel the echoes of the VT shooting perhaps more than those at other institutions - since we, too, had a campus shooting, just a few weeks ago. (For those who don't remember, Rebecca Griego, an alumna and staff member, was shot by a stalker ex-boyfriend against whom she had a restraining order. He then turned the gun on himself.) Should UW have locked down the campus after this tragedy? It's not an easy question, and it's easy to say in hindsight that yes, VT officials should have instituted a lockdown, but how was anyone supposed to know what the killer had in mind? Locking down a campus the size of VT's (or UW's) is no trivial matter - inconveniencing 30,000 people, canceling classes (and maybe exams), etc. What if Griego's killer had, instead of taking his own life immediately, gone across the street into busy lecture halls and opened fire? It could have just as easily happened here.

It's always easy to say in hindsight that more should have been done, but how is any of us to know what is going to happen? Both Griego's killer and the VT shooter were known to be dangerous - shouldn't something have been done on an individual level to either reach out to these people or to prevent these tragedies from happening? What should have been done? It's easy to say in hindsight that the campus should have been locked down immediately, but when you consider altering the daily activities of more than 30,000 people, a campus-wide lockdown is no trivial matter. And yes, what happened at VT is an atrocious tragedy, and measures should be taken to prevent such a thing from happening again. But we must remember that more than 30 people are killed in horrific acts of violence every single day in Iraq, in Sudan, in Afghanistan, and we barely look up from our paper long enough to take a sip of coffee when this happens. Yes, more should have been done to alert students at VT of the morning's events, but was it really forseeable that the shooter was planning on the biggest gun rampage in US history? Is a campus-wide lockdown an appropriate measure after an isolated act of violence? Or are we just trying to pin the blame on someone, since the real perpetrator is dead?

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