On April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, a sullen, troubled, twisted young man killed 32 people, injured 25 more, and then took his own life in the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. Could such a thing happen here? Are San Diego college campuses safe?
I asked 20 undergrads from five local colleges and universities whether the shooting had affected them or their campuses in any profound way. Did they identify with the shooter or the victims? Did they blame gun policies for what happened? And finally, what did they think they would have done if they had been in one of those classrooms at Virginia Tech?
- David Stone, 20,
- UCSD, Senior, Applied Math Major
"I feel safe on this campus. We do have campus police. Admittedly, I don't see them that often, but I guess my sense of security comes more from the fact that I've taken martial arts for eight or nine years now. So I guess it's just a sense of personal security instead of campus security.
"The thing about that shooting -- that guy had to reload. He had to pull out the clip, pull another clip out of his backpack, and put it in. And during that time, someone could have taken him out. That's easy enough. Especially if he was distracted with loading a gun.
"If I'd have been at Virginia Tech, then I would have been listening for the click, when the gun was out. And if I heard him reloading, then I definitely would have gone after him. And I'm sure about that, because in martial arts, your training becomes your instinct. I wouldn't even think about it. I'd just do it. So it's not necessarily that I would have been so freaked out because my classmate sitting next to me was dead; it would have been that basic survival instinct kicking in and going, 'I need to stop this.'
"Shootings are so rare. And I think of them happening more in high school than in college. In high school, your life is the center of the world, and any problem is the biggest thing you've ever encountered, so you tend to be a little more exaggerated in your reaction. But in college, if your life gets sucky, most people just off themselves. Like, in fall quarter, we had a guy jump off the Gilman Parking Structure. So, you know, I think it's more likely that someone who's having problems will just commit suicide.
"That said, something like the shootings at Virginia Tech could happen anywhere. It could happen here, sure.
"The problem wasn't the gun laws. The only thing that gun laws do is hamper people who aren't determined enough.
"We definitely have a right to bear arms, but I'm not thinking that's the safest thing, for everyone to carry a gun. What would be safe is if everyone had a gun and everyone was trained how to use it. But you can't enforce that. It's unrealistic.
"And I wouldn't want my teachers to carry guns, because what if I'm a few minutes late for history class? Then my teacher might just off me right there."
Cathy Kim, 22, UCSD, Senior, Sociology Major, San Ramon, California
"People on this campus are just in our own little bubble. So people didn't seem to necessarily register anything about the shooting. The mood here didn't change at all.
"But after the shootings, there were the threats in East County and stuff that were a lot scarier, I think, because they were a lot closer to home.
"The vibe here at UCSD is really antisocial. And there are people here who are overstressed. Every year there are people here who commit suicide. And we don't hear about that very much. So I guess a shooting like that could happen here pretty easily.
"I do feel safe here, though, even when I'm walking alone at night. It's just a very quiet campus, in general. We have resident security officers and community service officers who can walk you to your destination at night, and the security here seems pretty good.
"As far as Virginia Tech, I think we'd all like to tell ourselves that we'd be the hero, but in reality, I think you're just innately programmed for instinctual self-survival. I'd like to say that I would have stopped him, but I know I wouldn't have.
"After 9/11, I didn't look at Muslims any differently, and after this, I don't look at quiet kids or Asians any differently. I don't typecast people. And speaking as a Korean, the thing that I think is unfortunate is that there's just such a lack of Asian influence in the media and in popular culture, and something like this can really hinder the few Asian Americans who want to be part of the media and pop culture. But on the other hand, I haven't gotten any backlash for it, personally, just because I'm Korean and he was Korean."
Su-Young Hong, 22, UCSD, Senior, Literature Major, Orange, California
"I heard about the shooting later that day, and it kind of just blew me away. I expected a much bigger reaction on campus. But it almost seemed ignored, or put on the back shelf. There was a prayer vigil, but it wasn't that big, which is understandable, because this campus isn't very active as a group.
"This doesn't seem like the kind of campus where something like that could happen. I mean, it could happen anywhere, but it doesn't seem especially threatening here. There's a whole illusion of security, you know, living in La Jolla.
"I think if everyone had guns, that would make things really uncomfortable. Because then, if you cross the wrong guy, you'd just get smoked. I mean, people piss off a lot of random people more than they piss off one psycho, you know?
"You've heard the saying, 'Everyone has a plan until they get punched.' People just aren't trained for that kind of thing. You could say you have a great fight-or-flight reaction, but no one trains to have a gun pointed at them. Especially at a college. So you might think you're brave or tough, but I think the first thought in that situation has to be 'Run. Save yourself.'