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virginia-tech-shooting-police-norris-halljpg-9159f659b05b0b6e_largeA negligence lawsuit filed against Virginia Tech by the families of two victims of the Virginia Tech murders in 2007 has finally ended.  Hot Air.com has the story:  

A multi-million dollar negligence lawsuit filed by the families of two victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting has been dismissed by Virginia’s highest court.

The state justices said Thursday that given the initial uncertainty and confusion surrounding the actions of the student gunman, “there was no duty for the Commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts by third parties,” meaning gunman Seung-Hui Cho.

He went on a shooting rampage on the Blacksburg, Virginia, campus that left 32 people dead. The young man then took his own life.

The families involved originally won a substantial judgment, which was reduced to a token in a subsequent decision.  Now, even that has been wiped clean.

Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy explains:  

[E]ven if there was a special relationship between the Commonwealth and students of Virginia Tech, under the facts of this case, there was no duty for the Commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts by third parties….

[E]ven if this Court were to apply the less stringent standard of ‘know or have reasonably foreseen,’ there simply are not sufficient facts from which this Court could conclude that the duty to protect students against third party criminal acts arose as a matter of law. In this case, the Commonwealth knew that there had been a shooting in a dormitory in which one student was critically wounded and one was murdered. The Commonwealth also knew that the shooter had not been apprehended. At that time, the Commonwealth did not know who the shooter was, as law enforcement was in the early stages of its investigation of the crime.

However, based on representations from three different police departments, Virginia Tech officials believed that the shooting was a domestic incident and that the shooter may have been the boyfriend of one of the victims. Most importantly, based on the information available at that time, the defendants believed that the shooter had fled the area and posed no danger to others…. Based on the limited information available to the Commonwealth prior to the shootings in Norris Hall, it cannot be said that it was known or reasonably foreseeable that students in Norris Hall would fall victim to criminal harm. Thus, as a matter of law, the Commonwealth did not have a duty to protect students against third party criminal acts.

This ruling may sound outrageous, but it isn’t.  In fact, it’s absolutely necessary.  Before I address this particular situation, please allow me to remind you of my December 25, 2011 PJ Media article that established that the police have no duty to protect any individual citizen, merely a general duty to suppress crime–to whatever degree their diminishing presence can accomplish that–and to investigate it after the fact.  The definitive Supreme Court case is Castlerock v. Gonzalez (June 27, 2005).

In that article, I wrote:

The actual number of police officers patrolling the streets of any community available to answer emergency calls at any hour of the day or night is shockingly small. Even in Washington, D.C., the federally funded police force’s average emergency response time is about eight and a half minutes. For most Americans, response time is no better, and is often worse — far worse. People living in rural areas or in small towns measure police response time in hours, not minutes. As bad as the situation is, response time is meaningless if the police — as in the case of Jessica Gonzalez — simply won’t respond.

Without a doubt, the police love to catch bad guys in the act. They love to catch violent criminals, taking special delight in catching those that hurt women and children. But the truth is they rarely catch criminals in the act. The police are very effective at deterring crime by their presence, but there are so few of them relative to the number of criminals and potential victims that it is easy for smart criminals to avoid detection, and the odds favor even dumb crooks.

Consider the consequences if citizens could successfully sue the police for failing to protect them. Could any city afford a police force? Who would become a police officer knowing that lawsuits would be filed against them daily? As outrageous as the Court’s decision might seem, it is eminently practical, for without it, there would be no police forces or fire departments. The bystander forced to retrieve the body of the unfortunate man that committed suicide might cynically ask what the difference would be, but police and fire departments do provide vital services. The nature of those services is in large part up to the political whims of local politicians.

The state will provide for your needs? The state will, without exception, protect you? Not now, not ever.

Not only does the state have no conscience, it is politically driven to reward those that nurture it and — at best — ignore those who do not. Yet the state will try to prevent you from obtaining the means to provide for and protect yourself — firearms — and politicians will demagogue the issue for political advantage, in essence threatening to withhold the protection they know they don’t have to provide.

It’s tempting to believe that police failure to answer calls or to assist those in need is rare. Any honest police officer can tell you it is far more common than most imagine, and that the old aphorism — ‘when seconds count, the police are minutes away’ — is painfully accurate.

The police response situation is even worse circa 2013 than it was in 2011.  In Detroit, which is admittedly something of an extreme example, average emergency response time–when the police respond at all–is 58 minutes.  

In many parts of America, urban and rural, the situation is little, if any, better.

In the Virgina Tech case, many of the same principles are in play.  It cannot be argued that any school should reasonably foresee that an active shooter could attack at any minute, and the school may be sued when such an attack happens if that school fails to do everything possible to prevent or guard against such an attack.  In reality, while school attacks are always possible, they remain, thankfully, rare.  This is, of course, cold comfort to the survivors of the Virginia Tech attack, or the survivors of any other school attack.

At Virginia Tech, the court ultimately held that the school–the state–given the information available to it at the time, could not have known what was about to happen and therefore can not be held liable for failing to prevent it or somehow warn students.  This too is unsatisfying.  Even if the school had reason to believe that a killer might be poised to attack, colleges aren’t high schools housed in a single building with a single PA system and the ability to disseminate messages more or less simultaneously to everyone present.  They are spread out over acres in multiple buildings, and even the most earnest attempts at warnings will inevitably fail to reach a large number of people.  How could school authorities possibly guess where on the campus a killer would strike, or the timing and method of his attack?  Obviously, the court agreed that Virginia Tech could not.

And what measures could a college take?  Turn every campus into a high-walled, controlled access compound, complete with heavily armed security controlling every entrance point and actively patrolling every street, alley and building?  Of course, virtually all large colleges have their own police forces that provide traditional police services, but to provide the kind of protection that would have a chance of deterring or stopping an active shooter would require nothing less than a small army.

There are indeed differences in law in the Castlerock decision and this one, but in intent and practice, much is the same.  Schools, indeed, any business or facility open to the public, are vulnerable to attack.  Anyone attending those schools or entering any business must understand that absent obvious negligence on the part of a school or business, they are present at their own risk.

In a December 29, 2012 SMM article on deterring school shootings, I spoke to the Virginia Tech situation:  

The true gun free school zone message is that we are not responsible for our own safety and security; someone else will protect us.  It represents magical thinking: A thing is so because we say it is, because we sincerely wish it to be.  Pity poor Virginia Tech Spokesman Larry Hincker, commenting on the defeat in the legislature, only a short time before the attack, of a bill that would have allowed students and faculty to carry firearms on campus.  He said:

‘I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus.

Perhaps many, even most, Virginia Tech students and faculty felt safe prior to the attack.  Playing the odds, most were safe and are safe in most places most of the time.  But someone is always on the wrong side of the odds.  Being forced to attend school or work in “gun-free” zones, places that are nothing less than victim disarmament zones where killers can be certain they’ll have no effective opposition and the police won’t be able to intervene until they’ve had the opportunity to kill to their heart’s content, many people will find the odds to be less than a sure thing.

At Virginia Tech and elsewhere, there are a few primary, disturbing lessons:

(1) Gun-free zones are uniquely dangerous.

(2) Public officials know that and don’t care.  Politically correct philosophy and leftist ideology trump your life.

(3) You are solely responsible for the safety of yourself and those you love; you always were.

(4) Public officials will do their best to disarm you, and will never accept responsibility for the entirely foreseeable consequences of that disarming.

And if and when you are killed, your family won’t be able to recover a penny.  The politicians and bureaucrats that disarmed you and established the conditions for your death, will never be held accountable–except, perhaps, if they have a conscience, shriveled and seldom used though it may be.

So it is for the police; so it is for schools.