IN THE RUSH to fix things at Virginia Tech so that a massacre like yesterday's never happens again, I hope university leaders will heed the saying, "Don't just do something;
It's a twist, of course, on the urgent command to do something, anything, in the face of chaos.
But if there were ever a situation that didn't require immediate action - with the exception of notifying next of kin and comforting survivors - it's this one.
In particular, don't rush to put metal detectors at the entrance to every dorm and classroom building. Don't rush to place armed security guards on every corner, bulletproof glass in every window. Don't rush to put closed-circuit cameras everywhere but in the bathroom stalls.
And please don't, as one security company suggested, rush to install retinal or hand-geometry scanners at building entrances.
"Keeping our children safe should be top priority," trumpeted a NAPCO Security Systems news release, e-mailed to this paper hours after the shootings, quickly appropriating the bloodshed for marketing purposes.
But swiftly turning the university into a prison, especially before administrators even know all the facts about what unfolded, not only won't change what happened, it might not even be appropriate for preventing similar tragedies in the future.
Worse, it would insult the freedoms the students no doubt worked so hard to earn.
Perhaps not many parents of Virginia Tech's 28,469 students would agree.
The students are probably like college students everywhere: kids of baby boomers, who grew up more protected, planned-for and hovered over than any generation before them.
"We did whatever we could to keep them safe," one local boomer mom of a sophomore at a Midwest college told me yesterday, as she watched CNN.
"We made sure they hung out with the right kids, went to the safest schools, didn't drink and drive or do drugs. We gave them cell phones to stay in touch with us. Everything was about keeping them safe. Then, when they go off to school, all you can do is hope they use what
you've taught to make good choices."
As in, don't binge-drink. Don't try a funny-looking pill at a bar. Steer clear of hazing. Don't let your friends leave you at a party.
But for situations where such smart judgments are useless - as they were yesterday for nearly 50 Virginia Tech victims - it makes sense that terrified parents would demand that the university install every safety gadget known to the security industry, to keep their sons and daughters from harm.
The way their own arms would, if they could be there.
The problem is, parents' arms can't protect children from all dangers. A stray bullet can still find your child as she munches a burger on your lap at Mc-Donald's. A drunken driver can snatch her as she sits safely buckled next to you in the car. An electrical fire can kill her in the very bed you just tucked her into for the night.
"As parents, we take risks with every decision we make for our children," said Anne Stassen, dean of students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I caught up with her yesterday as, in a complete coincidence, she was reviewing her school's emergency-response plan.
"School administrators are in the same position," she said. "We want to protect students in all circumstances. We prepare, review and analyze. We try to cover every base we can think of. On paper, it all works out great. You hope it works as great in the midst of chaos."
In the coming weeks and months, as Virginia Tech mourns its dead and helps the others heal, there will be questions about campus security and how it could be improved to lessen the odds of another massacre.
But I'm not sure a massacre is something you can successfully plan to avoid. Just as I'm not sure that parental heartache is something you can successfully plan to avoid.
You hope you will. You pray you will.
And then you have to let go. *