Did We Learn Nothing From Columbine?

I’m avoiding most of the media coverage of the killings at Virginia Tech, mostly because I don’t need to know the story of each and every life lost. They were all someone’s child and that is enough heartbreak for me to bear.

The coverage I am concentrating on focuses on who the killer was and what brought about his actions. And from what I can piece together, Cho Seung-Hui was one scary son-of-a-bitch. My fear, though, is that the media will focus more on the fact that he had two weapons and a shitload of ammo (Tom Brokaw, on the evening after the shootings, subtly suggested that guns were to blame) rather than the suicidal and homicidal thoughts that were obvious in Cho’s writings and behavior.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in 1964 that “hard-core pornography” was hard to define, but that he “knew it when he saw it.” It seems Cho did nothing illegal before the day of his shooting spree. But several of his teachers and former roommates and classmates all described him as “twisted,” “disturbed,” and “mean.” His writing was so dark and disturbing that one teacher refused to have him in class anymore and even reported him to the campus police. But because he’d done nothing wrong – its not illegal to write about killing people – they could do nothing other than suggest he see a counselor.

The undertones of violence are hard to define or describe, but we can sense it when we see it.

Here’s where the discussion should start: At what point do we as a society say to an individual, “Your words and actions, while not technically illegal, make you a danger to our safety and therefore we will remove you from the public sphere to further evaluate your mental health.” I know that notion shits on the very foundation of our legal system, but did we learn nothing from Columbine? Are there other ways to keep people safe from disturbed individuals? I don’t know the answer. I’m just throwing out the question.

Violent tendencies can start in youth or adulthood. A person’s chemical makeup can make him violent as can his upbringing. Abuse often begets abuse. Lack of discipline and little genuine love and concern for a child can make him violent. Of course this isn’t always the case, but we need to become more aware, to break new ground in how we treat people who exhibit violent tendencies. How are they violent? What about their speech or actions makes them troubled, disturbed, twisted, or mean? And this must be coupled with legal action if necessary.

It wasn’t the 9mm and .22 pistol that killed and wounded all those students. It was a sick and disturbed individual who exhibited all the signs of suicidal and homicidal tendencies. And he wasn’t stopped because no one knew how and no one legally could.

Lou Dobbs wrote an interesting column about violence on our nation’s college campuses. Click here: http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/17/Dobbs.April18/index.html

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2 thoughts on “Did We Learn Nothing From Columbine?

  1. Actually, because our sons had a non-threatening, but suicidal roommate roommate, (who did subsequently die of suicide,) I know about this. Cho’s family could have participated with campus mental health/security staff, had all communicated, and had him put on a psych ward for a 72 hour hold for evaluation of his mental health. The police will actually pick the person up and take them there, if need be. The criteria is simply that there is reason to believe the person may be a danger to her/himself or others. This guy’s writing definitely met that criteria. I am guessing though, that the communication was absent. love, V

  2. Funny … my first reaction when I heard about this was that the shooter and his family were victims, too. His parents are surely suffering as much as the parents of the slain students. So many lives lost needlessly.
    Whatever the state of our mental health system, my heart goes out to someone who feels that this was the only way to deal with the world and sees these actions as a viable way to problem solve.
    None of this is meant to underestimate the pain and suffering of those who were slain. I think this whole situation calls for more understanding and less villifying.

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