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Letter from a Student at Virginia Tech


The following article by Virginia Tech graduate student, Bradford B. Wiles, was published in the Roanoke Times yesterday. He writes of the feeling of helplessness and vulnerability that he felt at the time of the killings.

Would the massacre perhaps have been prevented or stopped earlier if, as he says, students with concealed weapons licenses were allowed to bring their guns on campus? Of course, only Allah knows the answer to that question but recent history would suggest that this idea has some merit.

Assuming that a mass murderer wants to kill en masse then it is reasonable to assume they will target areas where they have the best chance of killing as many people as possible before eventually turning the gun on themselves or being captured. In an environment such as Virginia where, it seems, a significant proportion of the population may be carrying concealed weapon, it makes sense (as much as any of this can possibly make sense) to go to a place where nobody has the capability of defending themselves against you. In this case, it seems that was the campus of Virginia Tech.

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Anyway, Bradford writes:

On Aug. 21 at about 9:20 a.m., my graduate-level class was evacuated from the Squires Student Center. We were interrupted in class and not informed of anything other than the following words: “You need to get out of the building.”

Upon exiting the classroom, we were met at the doors leading outside by two armor-clad policemen with fully automatic weapons, plus their side arms. Once outside, there were several more officers with either fully automatic rifles and pump shotguns, and policemen running down the street, pistols drawn.

It was at this time that I realized that I had no viable means of protecting myself.

Please realize that I am licensed to carry a concealed handgun in the commonwealth of Virginia, and do so on a regular basis. However, because I am a Virginia Tech student, I am prohibited from carrying at school because of Virginia Tech’s student policy, which makes possession of a handgun an expellable offense, but not a prosecutable crime.

I had entrusted my safety, and the safety of others to the police. In light of this, there are a few things I wish to point out.

First, I never want to have my safety fully in the hands of anyone else, including the police.

Second, I considered bringing my gun with me to campus, but did not due to the obvious risk of losing my graduate career, which is ridiculous because had I been shot and killed, there would have been no graduate career for me anyway.

Third, and most important, I am trained and able to carry a concealed handgun almost anywhere in Virginia and other states that have reciprocity with Virginia, but cannot carry where I spend more time than anywhere else because, somehow, I become a threat to others when I cross from the town of Blacksburg onto Virginia Tech’s campus.

Of all of the emotions and thoughts that were running through my head that morning, the most overwhelming one was of helplessness.

That feeling of helplessness has been difficult to reconcile because I knew I would have been safer with a proper means to defend myself.

I would also like to point out that when I mentioned to a professor that I would feel safer with my gun, this is what she said to me, “I would feel safer if you had your gun.”

The policy that forbids students who are legally licensed to carry in Virginia needs to be changed.

I am qualified and capable of carrying a concealed handgun and urge you to work with me to allow my most basic right of self-defense, and eliminate my entrusting my safety and the safety of my classmates to the government.

This incident makes it clear that it is time that Virginia Tech and the commonwealth of Virginia let me take responsibility for my safety.

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  1. iMuslim

    April 20, 2007 at 1:52 PM

    Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah

    Although i do understand the argument, i cannot agree to it; the idea that more guns, means more safety… Especially at a time where people are more paranoid about terrorism, and similar crimes then ever before.

    I didn’t realize until now that the students are allowed to carry a weapon any where in the State, but their own campus. In this context, it does seem like a strange exception.

    I suppose in a culture where guns are the norm, and school shootings are on the rise, allowing students to arm themselves makes sense. However, in my head, the ideal would be a culture where the possession of such efficient killing machines was not the norm, and students weren’t exposed to an environment where they felt they had to kill 30 classmates, in order to gain a sense of control. It’s a dark symptom of an even darker sickness.

    It’s a topic that causes too much emotion to debate well. I understand the phrase: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But no-one can deny that guns are very good at killing people, and so to allow people to arm themselves so freely, in an environment of paranoia and hostility, seems like a recipe for disaster to me.

    Allahu ‘alim.


  2. Hassan

    April 20, 2007 at 5:47 PM

    Salam. The murdrer did not follow the law of Virginia tech and brought the weapon. What makes you think if there was state wide law on weapons ban, he would not get it smuggled and bring it and kill as many people?
    I live next to Johnson Space Center in Houston, and if you check, there is incident happening there. And I am locked up in home, wishing I had gun to protect me and my family in case that guy shows up here.

  3. Amir

    April 20, 2007 at 7:49 PM

    I don’t think there is any evidence that school shootings are “on the rise”. See this report from the US Surgeon General for example.

    Thus, trends throughout the 1990s show that the number of school homicides has been declining. Yet within this overall trend, homicides involving more than one victim appear to have been increasing.

    Would a prohibition on guns make Americans safer? Well, one might ask has a prohibition on drugs meant that criminals no longer deal drugs in America? The answer, of course, is that it hasn’t made much difference because regardless of what the government legislates there is a demand for drugs and guns and a criminal community willing to meet that demand with supply.

    Does anyone honestly believe that had even a small percentage of those VT students had weapons and been appropriate trained that this lunatic gunman might have been dealt with a lot earlier? The problem was university policy stacked all the odds in the favour of any maniac who was willing to disregard those polices and bring guns on campus. As the albeit somewhat hackneyed adage goes, when you outlaw guns, only the outlaws have guns…

    People must have the freedom to defend themselves, their families and property from harm and if that means using deadly force then so be it. The reality is that, when it comes to the police force, often all you can depend on them to do is to draw the chalk outline around the bodies of your loved ones.

  4. Shahzad

    April 20, 2007 at 11:52 PM

    *Moved from Br. Waleed’s Tribute Post*

    This horrible tragedy is another reminder for Americans to give up their guns laws. The Second Amendment has to go. Every society has crazies and criminals like Cho Seung-Hui but when guns are so handy the impact is so devestating. If all Hui had was a knife, there would be no way he could kill 32 people.

    And what bothers me is that right after the tragedy, we hear American politicians like John McCain continue to defend the right to bear arms.

  5. Amad

    April 20, 2007 at 11:53 PM

    *Moved from Br. Waleed’s Tribute Post*

    ASA, Br. Shazad, I would have to disagree with you on guns. Actually I am kind of torn on this topic. But, we also have to avoid being over-reactionary to high-profile incidents.

    If you think about it, more people die due to the influence of alcohol than anything else. So, perhaps we should start with that first (most Muslims would agree on that I am sure!). But, this killer could have easily chosen a different weapon: he could have run over many more people with a big truck, for instance. He could have made an improvised bomb, he could have used some other chemical induced attack. My point is that there are many ways of killing, perhaps equally easy, that a murderer can used when highly motivated.

    As for guns, perhaps better controls may be useful. Deeper background checks may be especially helpful (considering that the guy had some sort of run ins with the campus police, which raises the question of sharing information between enforcement departments). But, I am wary of taking away the right to a person being able to defend his family and his property from criminals. It gives the ‘good’ people a better chance against the ‘bad’ people, especially since bad people will always find a way to get a gun anyway.

  6. Hassan

    April 20, 2007 at 11:53 PM

    *Moved from Br. Waleed’s Tribute Post*

    I agree with Amad bhai. Criminals, or people who intend to do bad would always find ways to get weapons, while abolishing second amendment means, it would leave law abiding citizen defenseless against such criminals.

  7. Shahzad

    April 20, 2007 at 11:54 PM

    *Moved from Br. Waleed’s Tribute Post*


    I don’t buy it. Up here in Canada, we abhore the American gun culture. In Toronto, the inflitration of illegal guns from the US has increased gun violence considerably especially among gangs and youth. Now, if I was to say the solution is to put guns into the hands of ordinary citizens to counter gang violence, then the criminals will just buy bigger guns, and the circle of violence continues.

    Maybe it’s the unique history of the United States as a wild west, warrior society that makes Americans not see beyond their reality. Look at Canada, at Europe. Same racial stock but a totally different views on guns.

    And I’m amazed at the absolute loyalty to the Amercian constitution and the Second Amendment. It’s not like it’s scripture!

  8. Hassan

    April 20, 2007 at 11:55 PM

    *Moved from Br. Waleed’s Tribute Post*

    Brother Shahzad, yes the constitution is not scripture. The problem is not gun, its the general trend of US culture that is getting violent. One of my favorite columnist, Paul Craig Roberts, wrote on this issue that when he was growing up, if there was a young boy making trouble/fighting, police would get him and take him to his parents for disciplining, and now its opposite. Parents here are not spending enough time with children.

    As you see, the guns and weapons would make their ways into hands of bad people anywhere, even up there in Canada where laws are so strict on gun, so it leaves people who follow laws without any defense for themselves.

  9. Shahzad

    April 20, 2007 at 11:59 PM

    *Moved from Br. Waleed’s Tribute Post*

    Taking the opportunity to use this event for positive change. Here is an article:

  10. Faraz

    April 21, 2007 at 12:22 AM

    The gun control problem is now too deeply-rooted in America. The defence I always hear is that “I need a gun to protect myself and my family” .. but that creates a vigilante system that is bound to be abused. In much of the rest of the world, we can actually trust our law enforcement to take care of protecting us, and for the most part, they’re actually quite effective. It’s also way too easy to own guns in United States, in particular automatic weapons.

    Yes, there have been gun deaths in Canada, we even had a school shooting a few months ago in which one person died and a dozen people were injured. But incidents like these are becoming increasingly common in the US, because the culture not only accepts gun enthusiasm, but encourages it. A friend of mine moved from Canada to Houston a few years back; when he lived here, “taking shots” meant going out on the street with a hockey stick and taking shots on a net or garage door. Now, that same friend often goes “shooting” with his buddies on a regular basis. Another friend moved from Houston to my city in Canada, and he finds it odd that none of us keep guns, and that we rely on campus security to actually keep us safe in the universities. These are all very religious Muslims, but their devotion to the second amendment is scary.

  11. Mujahideen Ryder

    April 21, 2007 at 1:34 AM

    Gun or no gun, death is certain.

  12. Amir

    April 21, 2007 at 6:53 AM

    Another friend moved from Houston to my city in Canada, and he finds it odd that none of us keep guns, and that we rely on campus security to actually keep us safe in the universities. These are all very religious Muslims, but their devotion to the second amendment is scary.

    I suppose it comes down to this: in a life or death VT-style situation who has more interest in preventing you being killed — yourself or some campus security guard? The answer, I think, is self-evident.

    Police may be good at investigating crimes, but how useful are they at preventing murder? The VT gunman had killed 30 people before the police could intervene. Therefore, it makes sense to ensure that the individual who may find himself or herself in that situation — and I ask Allah to protect all of us from that — has every freedom imaginable to protect his life, property and the lives of others. Ultimately, that means empowering citizens with the right to bear arms because regardless of what governments do and what people say about ‘changing the gun culture’, the inescapable fact is that criminals and determined psychopaths will continue to have access to weapons and will continue to use them.

    As Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, wrote many years ago:

    “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms..disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”

  13. Hassan

    April 21, 2007 at 11:42 AM

    Faraz wrote “These are all very religious Muslims, but their devotion to the second amendment is scary.”

    What? How does owning gun or thinking that a person should have right to own gun contradicts being religious muslim?

    As brother Amir pointed out, no matter how efficient police might be, it would have been different situation if a)the killer knew he can not go freely with gun, without being shot at, b)anyone having gun would have shot at him, after first few of his shots.

  14. Faraz

    April 21, 2007 at 6:09 PM

    What I meant is that they defended their gun habits as strongly as their religion, as if it were scripture (like another poster said.)

    Anyway, it’s meaningless for me to weigh in on this because I don’t live in a gun culture and don’t understand the complexities of it. And for that, I’m thankful. But I do find it pretty annoying when Muslims coming from these gun-toting lands criticize us for not keeping weapons.

  15. Shahzad

    April 23, 2007 at 12:06 PM

    Bismillah. Assalamu ‘alaikum

    I suggest we look at this problem more holistically. One of the beautiful aspects of Islam is that the Islamic system works best when there everything is in balance and rulers, scholars, intellectuals and citizens work together to create a truly just society. To apply a specific ruling in absence of any effort to implement justice may in fact become unjust. For example, we know that during times of extreme famine, Umar (radiAllahu ‘anhu) held off from enforcing the punishment for stealing. This is why often when Islamic movements are quick to enforce Islamic penal codes in environments where there is no social or economic justice or education, that these movements are rejected by the society at large.

    With regards the gun issue in the United States, there is great imbalance. Social and racial injustice is still rampant which fuels social problems and crime. The media and entertainment industries reinforce violent and sexually-charged messages constantly. A huge chunk of the American poor have no health insurance coverage and have access to sub-standard education and economic opportunities. So of course there is gong to be crime, alienation and mental illness. And if we make guns easily available, then of course we are going to see escalating gun crime. In this context, if we enforce gun-free zones like restaurants, schools and universities, without addressing wider societal issues, then I can totally understand the position of pro-gun advocates.

    But as Muslims, we need to advocate a holistic approach to the problem. Rather than defending the right to own a gun or not, we have to work at help identifying the underlying issues such as social injustice, racism, immorality, *lack of Islam*, etc.

    But as a short-gap solution, the general trend in the Western world such as Canada, Europe, and more recently Australia, is to tighten up gun laws.

  16. Amad

    April 24, 2007 at 12:54 AM

    ASA, I don’t have a particular problem with tightening up gun-laws. I am also wondering why a more stringent background check is not acceptable to many folks? Also, somehow the sharing of pertinent information between law-enforcement has to improve. Would it have been possible that the campus police, aware of the mental problems of the VA killer, would have updated some database somewhere that would have triggered a gun-sale denial? Possibly. Interestingly, the gun lobby has actually strengthened after the incident… possibly a backlash to gloating by gun-control activists? See this story on AFP.

    Well, as I was writing this comment, I found that indeed NRA and Dems are working together to do something along the lines I mentioned here. See here on FOX

  17. tahsinthree

    April 26, 2007 at 2:55 PM

    Only in the States do we have to worry about being robbed, mugged and also being shot to death!

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