Another shooting on a "no-guns" Virginia campus

By Chad D. Baus

Amidst continued reverberations from the worst campus shooting in our nation's history at Virginia Tech in 2007 came news of yet another shooting on a "no-guns" Virginia campus earlier this month.

According to news reports, as 20 year-old James Michael Hamilton stood at the entrance to his math classroom with a long black canvas bag at his side, oblivious classmates filed into a classroom, apparently giving nary a thought to what was in the bag, or why Hamilton had suddenly decided to reappear at the class after having been absent for several weeks.

Although at least one student reportedly questioned Hamilton about what he was doing, ("I'm waiting for her", came the ominous answer), there are no reports of any students deciding not to enter the class, or calling 911 to report his suspicious behavior. Even the teacher apparently passed Hamilton and entered the classroom without pause.

Just as class was about to get underway, Hamilton stood in the doorway, drew a Marlin bolt action hunting rifle chambered in 30.06 from the black canvas bag, and fired a round at his teacher. As he cycled the action, news reports say the teacher instructed students to "run" (it isn't clear where the teacher expected the defenseless students to go, since Hamilton was blocking the door, and dove underneath her desk. He entered the room and, standing just five feet from the teacher, fired again.

Perhaps the only reason "James Michael Hamilton" is not a household name today is because of what happened next...

...He was unable to work the bolt to load the next cartridge.

After the shooting started, it became obvious that the students at Northern Virginia Community College aren't the only ones who seemingly continue to plod along in Condition White - the staff and faculty do as well.

Aside from the targeted teacher's obvious Condition White behavior, consider that classrooms do not have locks on the doors, or that text messages and intercom announcements warning students didn't go out until at least a quarter of an hour after the first 911 call went out at 2:40 p.m., with students in some classrooms saying they never received a text message or heard anything over the intercom.

Consider also that a sociology professor one floor above the math class led students down the hall after hearing that shots had been fired:

"The frustrating part was that no one really knew what we were supposed to do," said Michelle Wittkoff, 43, who was sitting in a sociology class on the third floor of the building when the shooting began on the floor above. She said she didn't hear the shots but was soon alerted by another student who entered her classroom. "Do we wait here? Do we stay? Do we run out of the building?" Ms. Wittkoff said. "We had no idea."

She said that as students and her sociology professor wandered down the hall, another faculty member told them that she believed everyone was supposed to stay in place. The students then returned to their classroom and looked out the window to see the police with guns drawn. Soon after, Mr. Hamilton was ushered from the building in handcuffs, Ms. Wittkoff said.

It took 2 1/2 hours for SWAT team members to notify students of the all-clear. For his part, Maj. Ray Colgan, assistant police chief for criminal investigations, seemed to think the campus officials' actions had been enough:

"If the gun hadn't jammed, we could have been looking at something much worse," Colgan said. "But preparedness would have helped then, too. If you can say something good came out of Virginia Tech," where a student killed 32 students and himself in 2007, "preparedness was it."

Really? Apparently to Mr. Colgan, the best we can do in this country to prevent another Virginia Tech is to make sure ill-trained students and instructors ignore an obviously suspicious person, while other ill-trained students and instructors enter and proceed down a hallway after shots have been fired, while still other students are forced to stack desks behind doors that have not had locks installed, all the while with campus officials laboring to get a warning out a quarter of an hour after all has gone silent.

The fact is, there was an extreme the lack of awareness displayed in the behavior of students, faculty and campus officials alike, and I suspect this head-in-the-sand mentality is still rampant across campuses today, despite there having been so many attacks.

Thankfully no one was injured in this incident, but not because of anything that Mr. Colgan has labeled as "preparedness." This issue MUST be addressed if we truly hope to prevent future multiple victim public shootings.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman and an NRA-certified firearms instructor.

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