In yesterday’s entry about the Virginia Tech tragedy, I quoted Informed Comment, who wrote “”The Real Reason for the shootings at Virginia Tech? In the United States, violently mentally ill persons are allowed to buy hand guns.” It turns out that information is not accurate. When I got up this morning I saw the front page of the NY Times had an article which said “Under federal law, the Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho should have been prohibited from buying a gun after a Virginia court declared him to be a danger to himself in late 2005 and sent him for psychiatric treatment, a state official and several legal experts said Friday.”
Also, on reflection, perhaps I was a little overly pessimistic in my talk. I implied there really is nothing we can do—we have to tolerate the probability of such tragedies because we live in a society that values freedom.
As a pilot, something that irks me is when an accident is used as an excuse to pass a law that would not have prevented the accident. So even though I think gun control is a good idea, I was reluctant to use the Virginia Tech episode as a reason for promoting gun control, since the things usually proposed—assault weapons bans, registration—would not have prevented the tragedy. But, continuing to think like a pilot, even though we can never make things 100% safe, we can do things to improve the odds. So I would suggest there ARE a couple of things that could be done “to improve the odds” and make another Seung Cho less likely:
- Do a proper job of enforcing the gun control laws we do have. The NY Times article points out that currently only 22 states provide mental health data to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That’s not acceptable. Every state should participate, and every state should be required to have procedures to make sure that people “adjudicated as a mental defective” (the wording of the law) are in fact promptly entered into the database.
- There should be room for more aggressive treatment, even unwillingly, for people judged to be a danger to themselves or others.
I suspect that there will be people more directly connected with Virginia Tech who will work on those ideas. I wish them well.