Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech

I guess I'm just a cynical bitch. What a horrible thing to happen, gunning down 32 people at your college, but the thing I keep thinking is that this would not have been nearly as big a deal, national-media-sensation-wise, if he had killed just one or two students. Which isn't terribly uncommon these days, actually. And that everyone is wringing their hands about "warning signs" and "what could have been done to prevent this" (let's blame it on someone since the killer himself is dead) when in fact I don't think anyone could have prevented this because it's legal to be a weird loner, and basically... shit happens in a free society.

Bottom line:
  • Cho hadn't broken any college rules that would justify his suspension or expulsion.
  • Although he had spoken of having suicidal feelings at one point, the Virginia legislature recently passed a law barring public universities from punishing or expelling suicidal students.
  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibits colleges from releasing information about students who are over 18 without consent to anyone, including the student's parents. This applies not only to grades and biographical info but also to student medical records. This has put a lot of colleges between a rock and a hard place (see this and this). MIT was sued by the parents of a student who committed suicide because they didn't inform them of her mental health problems, while George Washington University was sued by a student named Jordan Nott after GWU, afraid that he might commit suicide, barred him from campus (both cases were settled out of court). Interesting footnote: according to the U.S. Department of Education, schools may release information to "appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies."
  • Cho hadn't done anything illegal, including buying the guns. Although he was once ordered to undergo outpatient treatment, he apparently hadn't been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, which disqualifies you from gun ownership in Virginia (though I can't imagine why anyone would answer "yes" to that question on the gun application, and there's no easy way to check).
  • Was he clearly nuts? Yes. Is it illegal to be nuts? No. Had he clearly demonstrated a danger to others before April 17? No.
So do we just shrug and forget about it? I guess I'm not totally cynical. Two things come to mind.

#1: Relax the FERPA restrictions so Virginia Tech could have informed Cho's parents and/or put him into protective custody while getting treatment.

#2: Make it much, much harder for your average loon to acquire a gun. You're never going to get rid of handguns even with an outright ban since bad guys will always find a way, but I totally don't buy the argument that law-abiding citizens need to have handguns for self-protection. How many innocent people have been killed by gun accidents in the home vs. would-be criminals deterred by a legally purchased gun pointed or shot at them by the victim? I don't know the answer but I bet the first number is a lot bigger than the second. And don't get me started on the Second Amendment to the Constitution ("A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed"). "Militia" means Army, National Guard and possibly police. Remember, the Constitution was written right after a bunch of regular guys, "the people," grabbed their rifles (which everyone already owned for hunting) and defeated the British to start a new country. At that time, there wasn't a "well-regulated militia" because there wasn't any state to regulate it. Memo to the NRA: times have changed a bit since 1776. No hunting for food necessary, no Brits, lotsa police and military to protect us... ain't no need for Joe Six-Pack to have a gun any more. In fact, better if he doesn't.

John McCain begs to differ, however: "I strongly support the Second Amendment and I believe the Second Amendment ought to be preserved - which means no gun control." Which he said publicly two days AFTER the Virginia Tech massacre (though the article notes a brave audience member who shouted that George Washington's troops used muskets, not automatic weapons).

Even the most comber of discussions isn't complete without some useless trivia. As the massacre was all over the news and Internets, I learned that the Virginia Tech team name is "Hokies." So naturally I wondered, "What the hell is a Hokie?" Answer: apparently an old nonsense word for "hurrah" that some guy used in a contest to compose a new school cheer and won $5. Sorry, dude, but "Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy" doesn't hold a candle to MIT's school cheer.

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