Sunday, 22 April 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre

Copyright: Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

When I first heard of the shooting spree that resulted in 32 people dead and scores injured at Virginia Tech (via the Internet of course) my first thought was “Not again”. And my immediate second thought was, “There is unfortunately going to be more.”

23-year old Cho Seung Hui, from all accounts available in the media, appeared to be a social misfit and outcast with a chronic history of disturbing mental behaviour that had unnerved family members and other people he had come across in his life. He was a socially isolated individual permanently withdrawn into a fantasy psychological shell with poor coping skills that needed professional help but such analyses are always 20/20 clear in hindsight. Whilst it’s easy to heap blame on, and label him as a nutjob who acted alone, could he also be seen as a social alarm bell…a symptom of the ills of a much larger problem? Is he a one-off or are there more like him out there? With 220 school shootings in six years (and such mass school shootings are but a small percentage of this frightening total of firearm related deaths in the USA), I would be hard-pressed to be convinced it’s the former.

In a gun-loving society that allows for easy access of firearms to irresponsible individuals, it is hardly surprising that mass murders such as these keep punctuating the news with disturbing frequency.

Americans often tout their “right of the people to keep and bear Arms”. Fine – there is nothing right or wrong with that Right (I would even support that Right) except people tend to forget that is just one half of a maxim. For with Rights come Responsibilities. If one consistently is unable to demonstrate responsibilities for said rights, why let any Tom, Dick and Harry easy access to multiple weapons of mass destruction? If pundits claim that is not entirely true, should communication between different government agencies be reviewed which would have prevented such individuals ease of access to firearms?

Switzerland, another gun loving culture, do not have the same rates of murder with firearms as the USA, and even celebrate firearms as a wholesome community activity. The difference is one of attitude. Switzerland as a nation has demonstrated its Responsibility with its Right. The USA however continually fail at demonstrating said Responsibility with said Right. And until that can be achieved as a nation (which requires a national change in attitude that I don’t realistically see happening too soon), the quickest way of achieving results would be to toughen legislation that allows for easy access to firearms – a mammoth task indeed.

Still focusing on the theme of “prevention”, the other debate would be how to spot such troubled individuals before such tragedies occur (near impossible as too many false positives would be generated). Nevertheless, some form of national and local guidelines of management of troubled individuals as a group in general, commensurate to their problems, needs to be reviewed by politicians, academics and health care professionals alike so that clear lines of responsibility and appropriate actions may help all concerned. Also, contingency planning with review of established emergency plans and communication systems on campuses needs to be done to minimise future casualties. And if anything is implemented, such measures will need to be reviewed and audited to see if it actually works.

Boy, is there a lot of potential work ahead.


Moriji said...

Something doesn't jell about all this. He was a 23 year old paranoid schizophrenic who made it all the way to college without his family noticing anything seriously wrong with him? Huh? He was bullied and teased, had major social issues, would only grunt at people, and his family didn't make anything of it? What is wrong with these people? They probably thought if you ignored mental illness and pretended he was normal it would just all go away. Yeah, it all went away alright, in a hail of bullets.

By the way, did you know that this was the same university that The Magus and Batman went to? I couldn't help but wonder if those two guys had gone off the deep end when I heard about it.

El Draque said...

Yes, I was thinking the same thing...and I'm wondering how many more "sleeper" nutjobs there are out there ready to explode. Merely making access to guns more difficult is just treating the symptoms and not dealing with the underrlying cause.

It seems the family was in denial -no doubt cultural issues of the taboo subject of mental ilness played it's part. They may also have felt genuinely perplexed and helpless as to what to do. He was so far off the deep end, the guy really needed professional intervention and help. But like many others, I was amazed he even progressed so far as to enter and continue higher education with such behaviour. How IS that remotely possible? I guess many, many people prefer to turn a blind eye to problems. And disturbingly, some prefer to even actively encourage and exacerbate such problems (bullying etc).

There seems to be a diffusion of responsibility in modern society to such an extent that no one person or institution feel compelled to act anymore...because doing the "right thing" these days is rewarded with why bother? And with that prevalent attitude, a monster is begotten and let loose on society.