Monday April, 16 Virginia Tech Massacre 32 killed
Wednesday April 18 more than 200 Iraqis killed
Friday April 20, 1999 8 year anniversary of Columbine High School Massacre of 13 killed
Last week was another wretched experience of shock and awe. Millions are reminded of one of the characteristics of our age of terror, death from guns. And, all of us would like to do better. Most of us think we can do better. When I learned of the depth of the carnage at Virginia Tech I went into a familiar mode. What would I have done if I had been in those classrooms and watched the the Virginia Tech killer point his gun at me, at my classmates? Would I have had elementary skills to challenge the shooter? Would I have been frozen in horror and terror? Would I have had the courage to try to stop it? Would there have been even a tiny opening to stop it? As the news leaks out there are hints, only hints that some may have tried the best they could to stop the killer.
I believe there is a body of nonviolent knowledge and techniques that might prepare me and millions to respond competently. I believe that this body of skills can be organized and taught. I believe that practice and training will save lives and give people courage and confidence to meet the horror of situations like Virginia Tech.
Inevitably the massacre this week will reactivate discussions and debates of public policy, law enforcement, health, gun control, the psychological or cultural roots of Virginia Tech type killers, and the use of other human or technical security measures. Debates on all of these responses will continue and need to. But until citizens, unarmed citizens develop basic skills, and confidence to respond in dangerous or crisis situations we will continue to be disappointed with public policy.
It is possible that someone trained in nonviolent defense including measures that men or women can engage in to overcome or control attackers could have stopped the Virginia Tech assailant before he killed 32 people. I have learned from nonviolent work that achieving the goal of stopping violence is often closer than we may expect. We live in a culture that remains convinced that the only effective deterrent is an armed response or technological progress. Able and competent people have been experimenting for years to develop a battery of nonviolent and nonlethal skills to stop events like this but they have not been widely disseminated or practiced. When employed these skills may not always bring success but they do bring confidence and confidence affects the wider culture in unexpected and promising ways.
How do we get there? I believe we can get there with a three pronged approach that includes first, one or two day training events in nonviolent self defense at all levels of educational institutions, business and religious institutions. The training could be part of a larger classroom course in Violence and Nonviolence or weekend events. The training will draw upon the experience of nonviolence in general, particularly the experiences of third party interpositioning, intervention, and negotiations where careful attention is given to the ability to read body language and voice. The sessions will require training in the use of methods of physical coercion to restrain persons with violent intent. Mental health workers and law enforcement personnel among others have some training in this area which may need to be studied and adapted to a nonviolent approach to getting in the way of killers.
Secondly, team responses by trained people will help reenforce and sustain this training. Wide popular support and interest for nonviolent approaches already exists. Thirdly, institutions of all kinds can be challenged to find methods to undergird, sustain or facilitate this response to vandals, violence and vicious killers.
The message here is that we can exponentially expand basic skills in nonviolent self defense. This will not change the world overnight but it may contribute to a culture that has more confidence that it can respond, and a culture that is less consumed by lethal responses including guns, and more energized by another side of creativity, life and health.