17 April 2007 by Published in: General musings 18 comments

As I was looking at my blog earlier today, I realized that the last two posts were the result of random violence leading to multiple gunshot deaths committed by mentally ill individuals. Unfortunately, mental illnesses remain highly stigmatized in this country, and people like the perpetrators of these two crimes did not get the mental health care they obviously needed. It’s clear that something needs to change, and change soon, or else these types of nightmarish scenarioes will continue to play out.

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  1. kilgore
    Tue 17th Apr 2007 at 9:07 pm

    On the news tonight there was an instructor of the shooter interviewed. She said she had beeen troubled by some of his writings and suggested to him that he have some counseling. He refused (according to the news).

  2. Charles Bowery
    Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 6:54 am

    Don’t know if I’m opening a can of worms best left firmly sealed, but I would like to hear your viewpoint on the Second Amendment questions swirling around this incident (again).

  3. Steve
    Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 1:27 pm

    It seems like we swing like a pendulum on this. Either public safety or personal rights gets waved about. The real problem is proper identifing what the person is going through, and what level of expertise is needed to make that call. Although it is now coming out that his behaviour was observed over time, most people can not tell serious depression from having a bad day. And making the mistake in diagnosing can lead to bigger problems. All of us have our own level of snapping, and just how far we will go with it.

  4. Michael Aubrecht
    Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 2:00 pm

    I’ll add my two sense… As a Virginian who (like you) is devastated by recent events, I still wholeheartedly support the right to bear arms… HOWEVER, I do think that the ability to walk into a gun store (in any state) and then immediately walk out the same day with a weapon is obviously a VERY POOR SYSTEM.

    The answer (IMO) is the institution of a nationwide program that is far more thorough in the process of validating an individual’s competency and background. It may be an inconvenience to some, but I don’t think that most rational people would have a problem waiting a few days to pick up their purchase. (Although I don’t know how such a system would be developed.)

    The risk is far too great not to re-evaluate the flaws in the current system and there has to be a logical compromise that would be acceptable to BOTH SIDES of the debate. So far, we have had two of the VT victims with ties to our area, and if making gun purchasers wait a few days will protect our kids from suffering their same fate, there is no counter-argument against a new system that could possibly be justified. After all, we’re talking about protecting children here.

    Obviously there is no 100% fail-proof way to stop this kind of unpredictable insanity, but the heinous actions committed by a minority of sick-minded individuals should not result in the total loss of privileges for the thousands of law-abiding citizens who are guaranteed this freedom and exercise their rights responsibly.

    My take on the whole gun debate is simply this… IF you take the guns off of the law-abiding citizens of this country, then the only people left holding guns are the government and the criminals – which (IMO) is far too often the “same” group.

    And I agree with Steve’s points which are excellent. Not only should this tragedy force us to re-evaluate gun laws, it should also force an examination into dealing with the mentally ill before things reach this point. The background info that is coming out now on this psycho and the list of warning signs is absolutely shocking.

  5. Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 4:13 pm

    Eric made a wonderful point: “Unfortunately, mental illnesses remain highly stigmatized in this country, and people like the perpetrators of these two crimes did not get the mental health care they obviously needed.”

    The previous commenter also cites the importance of “examination into dealing with the mentally-ill” and then proceeds to refer to the shooter as a “psycho.” I suggest that the first place we look to in this reexamination is the language we use to describe people with mentall illnesses. How does describing someone as a psycho help us better understand mental illness?

  6. Michael Aubrecht
    Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Kevin, I think that everyone here can agree that the term (as I used it) is being applied to the individual that committed this atrocity. If that isn’t the definition of a “psycho”, then I don’t know what one is.

  7. Don
    Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 5:43 pm

    The other interesting part of this has been the role of campus security and what is expected of them. Not enough data available to the public to really be able to evaluate this yet (though the media sems to be angling for a public reaction). These are campus police, and paid as such, not SWAT teams or counter-terrorist units.
    I’m curious to see how far the knee will jerk concerning additional training and manning for these folks, or if we’ll simply dump more responsibility on them. I think the campus police on both schools where I teach here in Virginia do a great job within what is expected of them. They’re definitely practicing greater visibility over the last couple of days on and around the campuses, but I haven’t seen any over-reactions.
    Eric, I’ll admit to curiosity about your second amendment feelings on this as well.

  8. Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Folks here’s what I can’t get over. First, Cho is the FIFTH murderer to legally buy a weapon at that shop in Roanoke. How do you keep selling powerful firearms–I’m not talking hunting rifles here–after you hear about murderer #3 or #4 using a weapon you sold? Is there no moral responsibility? Don’t you get a little more careful? Not without state intervention, I suspect, and let’s face it, Virginia makes a ton of money selling guns to people in the northeast who can’t get them legally there. Our gun laws are a black mark on the commonwealth.

    Second, I find absolutely ludicrous this notion that more armed students would have made the situation better. I failed another student today for plagiarism, and I assure you, I’m glad he wasn’t packing a Glock with those clips like Cho’s that the Republican Congress just made legal again last year.

    I seem to have shifted from Denial to Anger; no criticism of anyone here is intended.

    Ken Noe
    Virginia Tech ’81

  9. Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 10:13 pm

    Well said Ken. Even my NRA relatives and friends admit that the idea of armed students defending the campus is just nuts – and asking for more trouble. I have heard of a more “rational” concept that arms and trains a select group of teachers (in the absence of law enforcement) to be able to react to an emergency. A drastic alternative? Yes, but perhaps a future necessity if we keep de-evolving as a society. How sad is it that we are even proposing such things in 2007?

    This concept that I mentioned above may be easier said than done as I’m not sure of the specifics in the design and implementation of a more thorough gun-buying procedure, but if they can do background checks for government clearances and the like, there has to be some kind of system that could be put in place. Something BETTER than what we have now. This guy had both a documented history of mental-illness, and multiple police inquiries and complaints on his record, yet he was still able to buy a gun without setting off any alarms. Clearly this procedure FAILED.

    Regardless, if anything remotely positive can come out of this heartbreaking atrocity, there has to be a concerted effort by everyone involved to learn from their mistakes, make the necessary changes, and do whatever it takes to help prevent future tragedies.

  10. Rob Wick
    Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Guys, no matter what happens, I think we have to admit that if someone wants to do something like this, no amount of gun control or psychological profiling or increased surveillance on campus is going to stop it. One of the sad realities of living in the world is that tragedies like this will happen because of how some people choose to deal with (or not deal with) their problems. I wish there was something magical we could do to realize who is just odd and who is a sociopath, but until they pull the gun from their pocket and start firing, we will never know. Scary, I know, but sadly I think its realistic.

    Best (especially to those in mourning)

  11. Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 11:40 pm


    I’m in New Orleans and am exhausted. I will respond to you guys tomorrow night from Austin.

    Thanks for all of the insightful comments.


  12. Steve Basic
    Wed 18th Apr 2007 at 11:51 pm


    Your points are all valid, and will throw in this tidbit. Recently the NYPD collected 83 guns in a crackdown, and guess where they all came from…Virginia. I, like you am amazed to see some talking head saying students should be allowed to be armed on Campus. Yeah, there’s a fine solution.

    What’s harder for me to understand, especially watching the videos he sent to NBC just how noone at the school had any clue about how disturbed he really was. That stuff is unbelieveable to watch, and you can see this was no random act.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve Basic

  13. Charles Bowery
    Thu 19th Apr 2007 at 6:27 am

    I think this is precisely the sort of civil, intelligent debate that we must have as a nation on this issue. The true injustice, at this point and again in my opinion, is to do nothing. We have become so polarized and politicized on a number of issues in this country that we are unable to change anything!

    I share a number of your opinions, primarily that our current system is terribly insufficient, but I think that merely to throw up our hands and do nothing because “nothing will stop people from committing violent acts” is an abdication of our collective responsibility. In my mind, the course of action is this: Class III (or whatever the collector firearms license is, which is hard to get) collectors, military, and police / security agencies own handguns. Period. No one else. Same for assault weapons. Period. Hunting weapons are not affected, and let’s not mince words or argue semantics, we all know what those are, and we can specify. Clearly it will take time, and will likely be impossible to get them all, but don’t we have to try? Spare me the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” arguments. People who commit these acts use certain types of firearms because they are concealable or have a large ammo capacity.

    If you want to call this “gun control,” go ahead. I’m a patriotic citizen who treasures my constitutional rights, and I come from a place/family that has hunted and owned guns for a long time. I own guns, and I hunt. I’m not the least bit afraid of the Government coming in a black helicopter to take away my stuff. If we continue to do nothing, we will continue these horrible discussions. Just this morning I heard on the news that a high school student took a gun to school, killed someone, and then killed himself.

  14. Dave Powell
    Thu 19th Apr 2007 at 7:27 am

    Several thoughts:

    1) I don’t know if VA is a concealed carry state, but I am glad that no student was carrying. The worst nightmare any cop can imagine is to run onto a crime scene where many people are waving guns and shooting: who are the criminals and who are the brave citizens?

    2) Preventing such actions means infringing some right, somewhere. Do we deny liberty to troubled people in case they snap? Where is the line between “acceptable” anti-social behavior (sullen, surly, keeps to himself) and unacceptable? Waiting until a crime is committed is not exactly the answer – by then he’s already killing.

    So which is the greater infringement? Denying liberty via involuntary commitment, say, in a mental health facility for “odd” behavior, or denying someone his 2nd Amendment rights?

    Personally, I am fine with gun ownership – provided we can devise a rigorous standard of licencing and registration. No gun show loopholes, no private sale loopholes, etc. If you buy a gun, you are responsible for it’s subsequent history. We can facilitate private sales via gun stores who can provide the necessary background checks, for example: If your prospective buyer fails that check and you sell it to him anyway, or if you skip that part, and the gun is later used in a crime, you must bear some responsiblity for transferring the weapon.

    Another aspect to this is how quickly some folks want to exorcise the culture of violent themes. Is Hollywood to blame? Rap? PC Games? Possibly. I am not willing to say that a culture immersed in violent revenge fantasies is not somehow also a little bit culpable when those fantasies play out.

    That said, I think that Free Speech is also a right, and question whether it should be infringed. In fact, I think Free Speech is a necessary component of our system, and we should be really careful about monkeying with it.

    So it boils down to which right do we infringe in trying to prevent future killings?

    1) Life, Liberty, Pursuit of happiness?

    2) Free Speech?

    3) Gun ownership?

    It is clear that none of these things can be entirely unfettered in a society. But which do we fetter most?

    Me, I vote for gun ownership. That would seem to have the least collateral damage.

    Dave Powell

  15. Thu 19th Apr 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Dave, I agree with you. As a gun owner who gets out to the range regularly, I have always believed in the need to teach and encourage ‘responsible’ gun ownership.

    Anything or any action that puts fellow citizens at risk or causes them to feel unsafe needs to be looked at closely and regulated if necessary.

    Some years back when the issue of gun show sales came up, there was a concern in my community that a private gun owner could set up a table and sell firearms without doing a background check. A referendum was created that established the need for background checks on all firearms sales and it passed with about 82% in favor. Among the voters, roughly 70% who voted in favor were gun owners.

    With our population growing and density increasing, the need for safety also increases and arming everyone is certainly not the means to achieve a peaceful society.

  16. Cash
    Thu 19th Apr 2007 at 4:47 pm

    As I understand it, and I may be very wrong about this, the shooter wasn’t eligible to buy a weapon by Virginia law due to his being ordered to have mental health treatment by the court a couple years ago.

    We need to do a better job of enforcing the laws we have on the books.

    As to campus security, that’s a tough nut to crack. A couple ideas–give some professors training and allow them to have a weapon in their offices; or, increase the size of the campus police and station an armed officer in an office in selected academic buildings with the responsibility to respond to all the buildings in their area. I’m sure there are much better ideas out there, but I’d like to explore them before we start taking rights away from everyone.

    Virginia Tech ’79

  17. Dave Powell
    Thu 19th Apr 2007 at 5:09 pm


    That is my understanding too, but I want to wait and see why it wasn’t flagged on the purchase, before rushing to judgement on it. Not enough info.

    I do think that the first thing we need is better enforcement of existing law, and more even application of laws on the books.

    As for arming professors, I don’t much like that idea, personally. I think it a mistake to introduce more weapons into the classroom. I suspect that will lead to more mistakes, more confusion, and perhaps more – not less – casualties.

    The central response cop might be a good idea.

    Dave Powell

  18. Valerie Protopapas
    Thu 19th Apr 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Two points:

    My grandfather (who died when i was 3 – I am now 66) said that gun control was the worst possible thing for the people. He pointed out the high death rate in New York City for crimes with guns and noted the New York had (even at that time) the Sullivan Law which was one of the most stringent gun control laws on the books in the 1940s. He said that the criminals could ALWAYS get guns no matter how they were ‘outlawed’.

    The people who would be affected by ‘gun control’ are the very people who would not commit a crime using a gun although admittedly people are killed accidentally by guns. But then, when I used to grow roses, there was a big stink over a well known horticulturist who died after drinking a big slug of Orthene insecticide which he had stupidly put in an iced tea glass! There was talk at that time about outlawing Orthene, but there is no legislative cure for stupidity!

    Secondly, at one time, I had two relatives who were in the New York State mental health system. Both were unable to live unsupervised lives, my uncle because of a brain injury which made him incompetent and my grandmother who had what we now understand as a degenerative disease of the brain. At that time, New York State had one of the best – if not THE best – mental healthcare program in the nation. Then along came the ‘civil liberties’ folks who carried on about the poor ‘inmates’ and their lack of freedom – that was about the time that drugs were being produced that allowed some mentally ill people to live fairly normal lives IF THEY TOOK THEIR MEDICATION! The then Governor Rockefeller – seeing a way to save money – took up the cudgels for these ‘poor folks’ and their ‘rights’ and closed the great hospitals which had cared for my uncle and grandmother. Fortunately, we found another facility for my grandmother where she stayed until she died, but we never learned what happened to my uncle. Probably he was ‘released’ to die in the streets somewhere without a place to sleep, a hot meal or even a cigarette. So much for ‘rights’!

    Now New York has no better ‘mental health facilities’ than any other state and many is the ‘homeless person’ who really belongs in custodial care rather than sleeping in a box in some alley or pushing some poor college student in front of a train because the voices told him to do it!

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