Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Virgina Tech, Columbine, and Misplaced Concerns

Am I the only one wondering why the focus of editorials and Oprah shows, related to the Virginia Tech massacre, is on blaming TV networks for airing the killer's video?

Let's think about what the Virginia Tech killer and the Columbine killers have in common:

* Guns and ammo that they shouldn't have been able to acquire
* Mental health issues
* Exaggerated feelings of disenfranchisement and persecution
* Public, documented episodes of homicidal rage

Whether or not NBC disrespects victims and perpetuates copycats by airing video manifestos and such by killers who are dead seems irrelevant to me.

The Columbine killers produced lots of video -- that detailed their plan to go on a shooting rampage at their school -- nearly two years before they followed through. They probably acted up in school and scared their friends. Their parents were probably at a loss for what to do with their weird kids.

No one blamed the networks for airing combat footage, or video game designers for the realism in battle games, or Hollywood for filming awesome gun battles. Rightly so, even though the Columbine killers, and that Sueng-Hui Cho guy, were probably excited about all of those things.

No, there are two things that separate ordinary people and killers:

Access to firearms
Mental health issues

Yeah, I know, everyone is afraid of the big, bad NRA. I don't have a problem with responsible, mature people buying guns. My idea of gun control is simple: make it very, very hard for kids and irresponsible people from having access to firearms. How? Retailer culpability is a good start. You sell a gun to a murderer, you are part of that murder trial and subject to fines and imprisonment. That might force gun sellers to take the waiting periods and background checks a little more seriously. Speaking of which, how about enlisting the local police in performing a criminal check on a prospective gun buyer?

Of course, criminals generally get their guns through non-standard means, so pawn shops and gun shows would necessarily need tighter restrictions. Since many guns trade hands over and over, in drug deals and such, serial numbers are not enough to trace the responsible parties. What's needed is some kind of key or PIN to operate a gun. That way, a stolen gun won't operate.

You say, "people who want guns can always find them." That is a problem, isn't it? It then falls to families, friends, co-workers, etc. to report anonymously that someone has a gun they shouldn't.

The other, (I think) more important issue is mental health. Boys and men who suffer from mental illness are disproportionately prone to violence. Boys that exhibit behavior like suicidal/homicidal ideation and feelings of persecution, that are angry loners and non-participatory members of their home, family, school, etc., are critically mentally ill and need help immediately. That isn't adolescence, or them just being "boys".

Families know when there is someone wrong with one of their members. Teachers notice it, schoolmates will tease and avoid them for it, friends sometimes tolerate it or misunderstand it or just are afraid of it, and it doesn't take long for untreated mental illness to become society's problem.

If Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris had people around them who intervened on their behalf and got them therapy and medication, and certain idiots hadn't made it possible for the boys to obtain guns, the Columbine High School massacre wouldn't have happened.

If Sueng-Hui Cho was put into a mental health facility when he refused to take medication for his illness, and certain idiots hadn't made it possible for the guy to purchase guns, the Virginia Tech massacre would not have happened.

It isn't NBC's fault.

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