The Fine Line

I was going to take an irreverent look at safety, mentioning odd things like tainted peanut butter and electrocution by manhole cover.  I am kind of a worst-case scenario parent — if one kid has a stiff neck, I think “meningitis”. So worrying about manhole covers is right up my alley.  Then there was the mass murder at Virginia Tech, and I really felt the need to keep my kids — all kids — safe.

  A school, even one for teens and young adults like a university, should be a safe haven.  This is where you can afford to make mistakes; where, indeed, you learn from your mistakes.  Colleges are supposed to act ‘in loco parentis’ — in place of parents. So where were the parents here?

   It stuns me that in an age where we can instantaneously find out the voting results of American Idol, Virginia Tech could not have raised an alert earlier.  One of the most ridiculous excuses was that school officials thought the first murders were ‘merely’ a domestic dispute.  How does two dead students qualify as ‘merely’? 

   My three daughters will all be at different summer programs and camps soon, and the directors of each sent out letters assuring us of their dedication to safety.  But I wonder what schools and camps can really do.  A few years ago, a friend’s son was kicked so hard by a classmate, he was hospitalized.  This was a fourth grader, by the way, and it was a totally unprovoked attack.  The school’s response was to move the victim to another class; the rumor was that the school felt an obligation to educate the bully after his very vocal parents insisted he not be suspended.  Of course, other parents refused to have the attacker moved into their kids’ classes.  So let’s say Virginia Tech officials had proactively kicked the murderer out of school. His parents could have protested.  Up to the day he snapped, he had never actually harmed anyone.

   It seems that too many people are afraid of stepping over a line. Professors were concerned about violent writings; maybe his roommates should have been alerted, and instructed on what to look for.  Although, this might have prompted the roommates to move out; if you were told your roommate had written a psychotic rant, would you stay in your apartment?  Still I think it’s better to err on the side of caution. This may not have prevented the Virginia Tech tragedy, but it might have reduced its scale.

   Gun enthusiasts insist that stricter gun laws are not the answer, but there is a world of difference between guns used for hunting and assault rifles designed to murder people.  I will never see eye to eye with those who think they are making their families safer by keeping a gun in the home; there are too many incidents of young children getting to unlocked guns. Besides, if you lock up your unloaded gun, you may not be able to get to it in time to defend yourself anyway.  If you are concerned about home safety, install a security system.

   There’s a fine line between trampling civil liberties and keeping people safe, but if I have to choose between the two, I go for safety every time.