Virginia Tech Shootings Hit Too Close to Home

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Tuesday, April 24, 2007 10:59 AM

At the risk of being accused of serving as a shameless company shill, let me just say that one of the more illuminating takes on last week's unspeakable carnage at Virginia Tech was offered up to listeners by my friend and long-time colleague Tony Kornheiser at the start of his two-hour daily sort-of-sports talk show on Washington Post Radio last Tuesday morning.

Less than 24 hours after the shootings, Kornheiser spoke for 15 uninterrupted minutes at the top of the broadcast, delivering a brilliant, totally unscripted monologue straight from the heart and mind of a parent with two college students of his own. As I listened to a tape a few days later, Kornheiser put into words many of the same thoughts -- though better said -- that kept running through my mind earlier in the week, once my own son called home from his dormitory room 500 yards from where the first two murders took place to report that he was obviously shaken, but mercifully safe.

Kornheiser said he couldn't imagine what the parents of the murdered victims must have had to go through the previous day. I immediately thought back to the hour of sheer terror my wife and I had experienced when we first learned about the initial shootings to the moment the cell phone rang, with our Tech sophomore on the line telling us he had actually been asleep when the first shots were fired, the first of about ten calls throughout the rest of the day and night.

Kornheiser made his comments even before we knew anything about the killer, only that once again a maniac with a gun had inflicted mass murder in a country that makes it so easy for virtually anyone with a driver's license to own a firearm, or to order ammunition -- as we later learned this madman had done -- off an internet web site.

Listen to another voice of great reason, Tom Mauser, the father of Daniel Mauser, a 15-year-old killed eight years ago in the Columbine school shootings. Writing in Sunday's Outlook section of The Post, Mauser said, "We cannot afford to ignore the elephant in the living room. We must face the fact that we are unique in the industrialized world in that we have the weakest gun laws, poor social attitudes toward firearms, the highest rate of firearm ownership, the most lethal types of firearms and, not coincidentally, by far the highest gun death rate.

"If having more guns and fewer restrictions makes us safer, we should be the safest nation in the free world. Clearly we are not. It is time for a change."

In the days since the shootings, people who know we have a student at Tech have been calling and e-mailing us to express their own relief that he was not among the 32 victims. Some of them wonder if we're upset or angry at school and law enforcement officials for not locking down the campus in the hours after the initial shootings, for not taking more aggressive action when teachers and students came forward to report their concerns about the killer's bizarre behavior in the months before his final act of senseless mayhem.

In hindsight, it's always easy to point the finger of blame. The mass media blanketing Blacksburg certainly did enough of that last week, and I'm certain the six-person commission appointed by Virginia's governor to investigate the tragedy will offer well-reasoned conclusions and offer its own informed recommendations. I only hope that No. 1 on its list will be to insist on a drastic change in Virginia's current laughable gun laws that allowed the killer to show up in a Roanoke gun shop with a license and a green card and have a murder weapon in his hands the next day.

That's what angers me more than anything, along with gutless legislators in Congress on both sides of the aisle unwilling to seriously tackle gun control issues simply as a matter of politics as usual, especially in the run-up to the 2008 presidential race. Shame on them and shame on us if we continue to send them to Washington.

But anger is not so much on my mind just over a week after the fact.

Mostly, I'm terribly proud of the way my son and his fellow classmates have reacted to this life-altering tragedy. Virtually all of them went back to Blacksburg to resume their studies on Monday, and every Hokie I've heard being interviewed over the last eight days has made it abundantly clear how much they cherish their school and how dare anyone even suggest that they wouldn't be back on campus in the fall, returning to a university and community they genuinely adore.

My son told me last Tuesday night that the magnitude of the tragedy actually hit home to him as he walked up and down the hall of his dormitory.

He said he counted the names of 32 people on his wing and "that's what this guy did. He wiped out the equivalent of my whole floor."

Since this is a media column, let me also express my immense pride and appreciation for the dedicated young journalists working for the Virginia Tech student newspaper, The Collegiate Times.

Under the most trying circumstances, their 35-person staff -- including a budding young writer who also happens to be my son -- managed to publish stunning daily papers totally devoted to breaking news, magnificent photography and thoughtful analysis on the shootings.

The paper's web site ( also was filled with up-to-the-minute news and served as a valuable source of information for readers nationwide, not to mention countless national news organizations with reporters on campus playing catch-up by following the student paper's lead in breaking one story after another.

Editor and Publisher magazine already has suggested that their effort clearly rose to Pulitzer standards, and I would certainly second the motion. I would suggest, as well, that Tony Kornheiser's magnificent monologue last Tuesday also be cited as a bright and shining example of the very best work a broadcaster could ever hope to accomplish.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at or

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive