Friday, April 20, 2007

Aunt C's advice desk

A few thoughts have been pinging around in my head about the Virginia Tech shootings. As the reports I've seen and read pretty much laid out everything I've mentioned below, then gone off to the usual conclusions (namely, gun access and bullying,) I figured I'd toss out my own impressions of the generally available data. I don't think the answer is nearly as clear-cut as is being made out.

I am neither a gun person nor an anti-gun person, so that's really not a fight I have a dog in. I wouldn't want to be prevented from using any reasonable means of self-defense I deemed necessary. I live in a part of the country where considerable leeway is given to self-defense, and I think it makes a difference on the police blotter. Guns have been used to commit crimes here, but also to prevent them. It's possible that tougher gun laws in Virginia would have stopped the VT shooter, but it's just as possible he would have gotten his weapons illegally elsewhere. It's also possible that another student with a concealed carry permit could have taken him out early in his rampage, or that the knowledge that there were other armed students on campus might have daunted him.

Obviously, the VT shooter shouldn't have been able to obtain a gun legally; he had a long history of severe emotional problems and had been judged a danger, if not to others, to himself. I don't think the mentally unstable bid fair to make much of a "well-regulated militia," anyway, or even for for safe use. The guy was considered a suicide risk and had been in court for stalking, for Pete's sake. It didn't occur to the court that he might try to arm himself at some later date?

It doesn't appear, however, that information that might have resulted in his purchase being turned down was readily available. Medical privacy? All well and good, until it affects public safety. I don't think it's neccessary to make a psychological dossier available to the gun dealers of Virginia. A simple "not cleared" on the insta-check system without further elaboration would do.

Gun control alone doesn't seem to me to be at issue here. We're now being told that the shooter had a history of unusual, extremely antisocial behavior going clear back to middle school. Having raised a kid with interpersonal skills deficits, I can hardly believe nobody ever called his parents and said,"Hey, Seung seems to be having some problems relating to other people. We'd like you to come in and talk to us about referring him for evaluation." I'm also frankly astonished that his parents packed off a kid they knew to have suicidal tendencies clear across the state to a huge technical university (when his field of study wasn't even tech, yet) where no one was likely to be keeping an eye on him. If I had their problems, I'd be dropping the kid off at the local community college every day and picking him up in the afternoon. I'd also make darn sure he kept up with his therapy, or made efforts to have him committed if I felt I couldn't control his behavior. (I'm told, by the way, that it's increasingly difficult to do this, which may point to another problem.)

There's another access issue that bothered me, too. I know the practice has gotten extremely common today, but I still fail to see the financial or ethical sense of issuing a credit card to a college student with no means of support. As a starving student, I couldn't have dropped five hundred bucks on a gun and ammo; neither could most people I knew. And nobody was about to issue us credit cards to be charged up and then defaulted on. I had graduated with honors before an oil company offered me a charge card that enabled me to fill up my derelict inherited Pinto and pay my gas costs monthly instead of having to hit the bank. Getting a real credit card required me to get a credit history, which had to be accomplished later by acquiring a Sears card, buying some large-ticket item (I think it was a boom box) and paying it off in two or three installments. And I had some kind of job practically the whole time.

Access to easy, unearned credit has gotten a lot of college kids into financial trouble. In this case it may have enabled a dangerously disturbed kid to set a deadly scheme into motion.

Now, I wonder if the upcoming investigation of the matter will look into any of these questions?

UPDATE 4/22/07: Found an AP article in this morning's paper that actually did a pretty good job of addressing some of the mental health issues related to this case. If I can find the online link, I'll add it.

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