On April 16, 2007, a disturbed individual walked onto the campus of Virginia Tech and killed 32 innocent people. Ten years later, I can still remember exactly how the hours after learning what happened played out.
I was a college freshman at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I was in the basement of the dining hall working my on-campus job as a designer for the school’s Design Services department. My cell phone rang and I thought it was odd that a family friend in Mississippi would be calling me out of the blue.
I answered the phone and he immediately asked, “What school do you go to?” I answered him, and he replied, “Oh, thank God.” I asked him what was going on and he gave me a brief rundown of what he knew. I thanked him for the info, ensured him I was safe, and hung up the phone.
Immediately, I told my two bosses what had happened; they both stared at me in disbelief. Completely distracted and unable to work, they told me to pack up and stop for the day.
I walked up the stairs into the main dining hall, grabbed a cheeseburger and fries, and sat down to watch the news stories rolling in, which were now being broadcast of every single flat-screen TV that had been recently installed in the dining hall. I have always been pro-gun, but I can confidently say, ten years later, that the shooting at Virginia Tech is was truly set me on the gun rights path I follow today.
I got back to my dorm and took my first small step toward advocacy. While all my friends were changing the profile pictures on their Facebook pages to remembrance ribbons for VT, I changed mine to a logo I made myself. It read: “VIRGINIA TECH Was a GUN-FREE School Zone … Still Think They Work ???”
Some of my friends gave me shit over that, but I didn’t care.
Four days later, on April 20, our campus organized a human chain solidarity memorial. Students and staff alike gathered on the mile-long campus walk and held hands while wearing ribbons of VT’s colors – maroon and orange. Balloons of those same colors were strung up everywhere and our campus fountain was dyed orange. I remember it being a moving – if somewhat empty – experience. While people around me sulked and cried, I felt determined and vigilant.
In the coming weeks and months, I found more advocacy outlets. I became the Campus Representative for an organization called “Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.” With the help of SCCC, I organized empty holster protests to signify that disarming students and faculty made us sitting ducks.
Just over a year later, in April 2008, I arranged for a staffer from the NRA’s ILA Grassroots Division to come and talk on campus as part of an SCCC awareness program. We didn’t draw a big crowd (not that I really expected to), but it did draw in a local reporter, the school’s police chief, and an armed member of the public. I was really glad he showed up, because it contrasted the odd reality that members of the public could carry guns on campus and in buildings, but students and faculty could not. I posed for a photo with the armed citizen, drawing contrast between his gun and my empty holster, while the police chief looked on.
After I graduated, I still lived in the area. I recall multiple occasions where I carried concealed on campus, but one open carry occasion sticks out. During an end of year picnic on the quad, I was hanging out with former faculty and friends who were still attending class. I just sat down with a plate of food when two campus police officers approached me and asked to talk.
They asked me why I had a gun on me, and I explained that I was carrying simply because I could. He asked me for my permit, which I produced, but reminded him that Virginia does not require a permit for open carry. He scoffed, told me that he knew the law in Virginia, and that I would have to leave. He even went so far as to tell me I was lucky enough that he was letting me walk away on my own accord, because he could have me arrested and my permit revoked for “pulling this kind of stunt.” I didn’t want to make a scene, so I got in my truck and left.
Once home, I wrote a scathing email to the police chief, calling out the ineptitude of his officers. He called me shortly after and apologized for the actions of the officers, admitting that they were in the wrong. He then sent me a letter in the mail stating the same. I still have the letter.
Within a couple years, my university became one of many in Virginia to alter their firearms policy. Now no one is allowed to carry on campus except for police (and the university changed the name of the campus paper from ‘The Bullet’ … because guns).
So, here we are, 10 years after Virginia Tech. An unfortunate number of school shootings have happened since then and the majority of our lawmakers refuse to acknowledge the common denominator in all of these shootings.
As I stated at the beginning, I was a college freshman when the shooting at VT happened – just like eight of the victims. Ten years later, I’ve graduated college, am happily married, and gainfully employed – by the NRA, no less – in the field in which I received my degree. I try not to take any day I have on Earth for granted, but the anniversary is an exceptionally poignant reminder not to do so. The victims at VT had their lives cut tragically short because of our pie-in-the-sky gun laws.
For the victims at Virginia Tech, I refuse to stop advocating for the revocation of gun-free school zones. Gun-free zones make for target-rich environments. Until this policy is changed, those victims will never be fully vindicated.