Monday, February 27, 2017

THE GREAT FALLACY


Guns, as a symbol for redressing real or imagined wrongs, permeate our political life. We now have a governor of Texas who brags about shooting coyotes while he is jogging and poses for pictures holding a pistol in the air. In the 2008 primary season, minister and former governor of Arkansas, Michael Huckabee, and his wife frequently posed in hunting outfits, holding guns as part of his efforts to get the Republican nomination for president. Not one of these politicians—not even the minister—will engage in a serious conversation about the root causes of school shootings. That is a crime.

Those of us who would like to talk calmly and soberly about all aspects of the gun-violence problem are not given a chance to be heard. UCLA Professor Douglas Kellner has done some excellent research on the media’s biased handling of the
Virginia Tech shootings. In his book, “Guys and Guns Amock: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre,”   (Paradigm Publishers, 2008), Kellner argues that school shootings and other acts of mass violence are indicative of an of out-of-control gun culture and male rage, both of which are heightened and glorified by the media.

As part of his research, Kellner monitored talk shows on the major networks for several hours on Sunday, April 22, 2007 (six days after the Tech shootings) revealing “the almost unopposed supremacy of the right-wing slogans of the day, with only one gun control advocate portrayed, in a brief segment on ABC’s Good Morning America.”  When it comes to gun violence and school shootings, Kellner’s findings do not support the right-wingers’ assertion of a liberal bias in the media. What his research exposes is a horrific right-wing feeding frenzy in the media (Kellner, page 55) “…None of the guests mentioned gun control or had anything constructive to say about the serious problems of school safety evoked by the tragedy, suggesting that it is highly unlikely that establishment politicians will contribute anything to making the schools and country more secure.” 

Kellner’s research also exposes the duplicity of one of this nation’s leading conservative columnists--Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer did not hesitate to turn his serpentine tongue to exploiting the Virginia Tech tragedy for his own agenda. Kellner writes, “But the most extreme example of rank hypocrisy and political manipulation of the Virginia Tech tragedy was a dual intervention by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer, one of the most enthusiastic advocates of the Iraq war … reasonably wrote in his April 19, 2007 Washington Post column that it is terribly inappropriate to exploit tragedies like the Virginia Tech shootings to make ideological arguments. But later in the day and less than 48 hours after the shooting, Krauthammer was on Fox News explaining the shootings to promote one of his personal hobbyhorses.  … Krauthammer just couldn’t help running to Fox News to explain why the Virginia Tech shooting and the killer’s ‘manifesto’ are connected to Al Jazeera, the Palestinians and other Muslim Enemies who dominate Krauthammer’s political agenda. … “  (Kellner pages 46-47)  “ … Krauthammer’s blaming the massacre on “Al Jazeera, the Palestinians and other Muslim Enemies” gives us insight into Krauthammer’s mind that sees his Muslim enemies at work everywhere from Iraq to Blacksburg, Virginia.”  (Kellner, pages 46-47) Not only do Krauthammer’s words give us a glimpse of his true thinking, but he also exposes his willingness to stop at nothing to get his agenda across, even if it means stepping over the bodies of 32 dead students and faculty at Virginia Tech.

“Already by the end of the first week (following the Virginia Tech shooting) …  it was clear that conservatives and hard-core gun advocates would make the Virginia Tech massacre an issue of mental health and ‘privacy’ laws which they were completely willing to exploit to deflect focus from the gun culture.”  (Guys and Guns, page 58) Indeed, President George W. Bush made mental health and the need for more government spending on mental health, the centerpiece of his response to the tragedy. The facts behind the mental-health problems of the shooter, Seung Hui Cho, were so glaring that at last there seemed to be, at all levels of federal and state governments, a recognition of the seriousness of mental illness and the need for something to be done. And indeed, following the Tech tragedy, Richmond promised more money for mental-health care and services. The state allocated additional funds for mental health and indicated that it would be a high priority. Within a year, however, Virginia cut the state’s mental health budget by 15 percent, and the following year by another 15 percent. Virginia now spends less on mental health than it did before the Tech shootings. Yet Virginia is one of a few states to consistently run a budget surplus.

Both shooters at The Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech suffered from mental illness. Both slipped through the cracks. The system failed. Now, Virginia intends to make the situation worse. The state has privatized Virginia’s mental-health care making the system even worse, raising the specter that more potential shooters will not get the care and attention they need. I look at Virginia’s decline in mental health care allocations later. (To be continued)



Sunday, February 26, 2017

SECURITY PLANS AND STUPID POLITICIANS



If you read, as I have done, the official reports of both the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, there is repeated emphasis on the importance of the schools’ security plans and the role of those plans in preventing campus shootings. Yet time after time, the schools’ security plans have not been given teeth to make them effective.

            Those of us who do try to look at the root causes of America’s gun crisis are rarely given a chance to speak out in the national media.  What we have to say is not shocking; it is not earth shaking, but it is critical to identifying potential killers who stalk our schools. We want the violence examined in terms of mental illness and other factors in society that make us ripe for these crimes.

            The rightwing of the American body politic, however, has foisted off on the public the fallacy that a liberal media and liberal politicians want to take away citizens’ Second Amendment rights to own guns. The clamor of these extremists is so loud that Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party, Independents—almost all of them—are frightened of doing anything about stemming this tide of gun-related violence because eventually the subject of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and those prone to violence will have to be addressed. Any talk of restricting gun ownership brings down the wrath of the National Rifle Association (NRA)—one of the most influential organizations in America today and one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill.

How can we remain silent when politicians in Arizona, and elsewhere, fire guns at their campaign rallies or worse yet, run for office and openly advocate the use of firearms if they do not get their way? These people seem oblivious to the impact their words have on the emotionally disturbed. Most of them claim to be devout Christians and rant and rail against public expressions of nudity, such as bare-breasted statues of lady justice. Somehow they see the sight of a naked human body as having the potential to influence people into doing all sorts of “unseemly” sexual activities. They want to regulate artistic expression because in their suppressed lives they see words and statues as undermining this nation’s moral values. However, they don’t see their words and their outspoken advocacy of the use of guns as having any influence on people who are mentally ill or emotionally disturbed.

In the 99th District of the Virginia House of Delegates, a candidate, Catherine Crabill, was running for office and addressed a political rally in Heathsville, Virginia on July 15, 2009. During the rally Crabill asserted that if she and her followers could not get what they want at the ballot box or the jury box, they would get it at the “bullet box.” Her words were repeated throughout the country on the evening news. Her utterances were so disturbing that they even made the international news.

            Ms. Crabill’s words so deeply upset several of the families of the victims of the Virginia school shootings that they drafted an open letter calling on the voters of the 99th District to reject her. When the ballots were counted, Crabill received an alarming 48 percent of the vote, narrowly losing to the Democrat incumbent. Apparently a large number of the electorate in the 99th District did not care if a candidate advocated gun violence. And yet some ask me why am I upset and why do I write.

The simple truth is that politicians such as Catherine Crabill make headline news. They call themselves “patriots” and they apparently feel that the use of that word gives them the right to advocate gun violence. Crabill is not alone.

Look at Jesse Kelley, the candidate who opposed the reelection bid of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona). In June, 2010, Kelley urged his supporters to “target” Gifford in the November elections and help remove her. One of his campaign slogans was,  “Shoot a fully loaded automatic M-16 with Jesse Kelley.” His words were grotesque; his candidacy represents what appears to be a failure of ethics among people seeking public office throughout this country.  Kelley clearly showed himself and his campaign to be based on superficial emotionalism, rather than substance and issues.

Even on the national level, politicians cannot resist using the image of guns to rally support. Politicians from both sides of the aisle often tell their supporters to “lock and load.” Former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin “targeted” Giffords for removal on her now infamous map of politicians in the crosshairs.

On January 8, 2011, Jared Laughner, a demented and seriously ill young man, took Kelley and Palin up on their words. He shot Giffords in the head, seriously wounding her. He killed six people including a nine-year-old girl who had just been elected president of her student council. Laughner wounded 12 others. To say that words such as those used by Crabill, Kelley, and Palin don’t influence the Jared Laughners of this world is sheer nonsense. However, to say the three advocated killing is also nonsense. The crime is that Crabill, Kelley, and Palin do not recognize the power of their words to influence the emotionally disturbed.

You simply cannot hide the stupidity of many of the people in this country running for office—a large number of whom get elected. (To be continued)

             


Saturday, February 25, 2017

THE MAGNITUDE OF THE PROBLEM


You get over tragedies by addressing them, and that is what I am doing.

Almost 100,000 people in America are shot or killed with a gun every year.  Nearly 13,000 people are murdered every year in this country by guns and another 45,000 are shot in a wide variety of criminal attacks; over 17,000 people commit suicide with guns and some 3,000 survive suicide attempts with guns. According to the Brady Campaign, over a million people have been killed with guns in the United States since 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy were murdered. Since the killing of John Kennedy in 1963, more Americans have died by American gunfire than perished on foreign battlefields in the whole of the 20th century.

Norwegian white supremacist, Anders Behring Freivik, murdered 77 people, over 60 of them by gunfire (the rest by bombing), in mid-July, 2011, and the world was shocked. According to the Brady Campaign, an average of 80 people are killed by guns everyday in the U.S., and it often goes unnoticed.

The statistics are staggering. The United States is saturated with guns of all kinds, and gun-related violence has reached pandemic proportions.

We work, we sacrifice, we nurture, and we send our children to college and university, and all too often they become targets for unstable and disturbed individuals who seek revenge for real or imaged insults; individuals who should never be allowed to own a gun.

So many people are gunned down in this country that what would have been a shocking crime 50 or 60 years ago barely makes the news crawl on CNN.  Few in positions of authority appear willing to spend the time or money to stem this epidemic of gun violence.  Most politicians are counting on the fact that violence is so much a part of our society that it has desensitized people to suffering, pain, and death. They appear to be right. Elected officials do not pay a price at the polls for failing to tackle this problem. When school shootings happen, politicians and luminaries from all segments of society say all the right things: they meet with the victims’ families, they cry, they appear to exude sympathy and compassion, they wring their hands, and they promise to do something to help prevent future shootings. In fact, however, when push comes to shove and they are given the opportunity to support tightened campus security they do not. For example, in early 2010, then-Virginia State Delegate David Nutter voted against a bill to amend and reenact the Code of Virginia related to crisis and emergency management for institutions of higher learning. At the time Nutter was both an employee of Virginia Tech and a member of the legislature.

Despite the statistics, despite the anguish, despite the suffering, there has been no real public outcry—until Sandy Hook. It took the slaughter of 20 elementary school children and six adults to galvanize the public into demanding that something be done to stop the shootings on school grounds and campuses. But even this public outrage produced only modest results such as calls for universal background checks, proposed laws to make it a crime to buy a gun for someone who may not legally own one, and, possibly, a ban on high capacity ammunition clips. But even with all the public outcry, when push came to shove, the Senate could not muster enough votes to pass a bill for universal background checks. The chances of banning the purchase of semi-automatic and automatic military-style weapons died.

The NRA and gun manufacturers’ propaganda campaign and ability to buy politicians has been so successful that even a rudimentary discussion of gun violence is next to impossible; even the horror of Sandy Hook does not prompt our politicians to act.

Furthermore, no one in positions of authority is ever held accountable for gross incompetence and ignoring the killers’ warning signs. Until people are held accountable for their actions or inactions, there is no incentive for school officials to act to protect our children, their teachers and staff, and members of the schools’ administration. (To be continued)
















Friday, February 24, 2017

RE-EXAMINING VIRGINIA TECH


             There are certain tragedies that are burned into our consciousness. No matter how hard we try to forget the memory we cannot. We know where we were when we heard the news; we can see everything just as it was at that moment. The murders on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Tech fall into that category. The events that day in Blacksburg, Virginia were so horrific that we all knew in some way, not fully explainable, that from the moment we heard about the shootings, our lives would never be the same.

                  It is now ten years since the Virginia Tech rampage and the images and the pain are just as vivid as they were that Spring day in 2007.

                  If you have the misfortune to not only hear about such a tragedy, but find out that your own family has been directly touched by it through the loss of a loved one, then that moment stretches out over days, months and even years, as one by one the agonizing details come out. If you are lucky, there is justice and a moment when you are able to move on. If you are unlucky, there are justifications, excuses, and lies that tie you tighter to the tragedy every day. But no matter what happens, there is that overwhelming and inescapable loss.

                  For those of us whose family members were victims of school shootings, there are no words that can capture the impact of that loss.  For me it was the mother of our oldest grandchild killed at the Appalachian School of Law shooting on January 16, 2002.

                  What is my goal in continuing to write about the Tech rampage? There are three main goals: first, to expose the abdication of leadership and authority by politicians, school officials, and law enforcement personnel in connection with all aspects of the Virginia Tech tragedy; second, to raise public awareness about what happened at Virginia Tech before, during, and after the shooting, and in so doing give support to the Virginia Tech families’ efforts to bring about changes in state and federal laws to tighten school security; and third, to help all families understand what they can do in insisting that universities and colleges have in place effective security measures and that those measures are understood by faculty, staff, and students.

My purpose is not to be vindictive, but to hold people accountable for their actions or inactions in an effort to lessen the chances of future school shootings. My purpose is to expose the shortcomings and inadequacies of our society that have made too many of our schools shooting galleries for the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed. My purpose is also to expose the lengths that those in leadership will go to in order to hide the truth, including their failure to abide by their own written policies, so as to maintain a steady stream of financial gifts. The simple fact is that until there is accountability, our schools will not be safe.

I do not pretend to have all the answers, and I recognize that violence in America today is part of a broader problem in society, including a crisis in masculinity—men and boys have carried out all the school shootings in the U.S. to date. Males do around 97 percent of the mass killings and serial shootings in this country. I also recognize that many of our core values and beliefs need to be re-examined. For example, we need to re-examine individual rights. A potentially dangerous student does have rights, but not at the cost of other lives. We seem to have lost sight of that fact.

It is not enough to tell the families of the shooting victims that no one could have prevented the Virginia Tech tragedy. For one thing, that simply is not true. The only way you can say it could not have been stopped is to gloss over the fact that people ignored the warning signs. If people ignore multiple warning signs then of course these shootings cannot be prevented. In my opinion, to ignore warning signs is tantamount to being an accessory to murder before the fact.

As long as people maintain that no one could have stopped Seung Hui Cho, the families of his victims will be prisoners to the agony of their loss. The road to recovery starts with the recognition that Cho’s rampage could have been prevented. Indeed, the first step in moving on from the loss of life on April 16, 2007 is to understand that we will never fully recover because the Virginia Tech massacre was preventable.

In Virginia, politicians fell prey to political agendas and opted to cover up and obfuscate. Fear of the impact of those agendas blocked a thorough examination of events of April 16, 2007, turning the Governor’s Review Panel Report of the tragedy into a glossy canard. Indeed, the failure to include a representative from the families on the Governor’s Review Panel Report proves French writer Paul Valery’s assertion that “politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.”

Second Amendment advocates and the National Rifle Association have so manipulated and defined the problem of school shootings that no one is willing to rise to discuss campus shootings without first saying, “I support the Second Amendment.” This statement is usually followed by a tirade about the individual’s rights to own guns. The politicians’ anticipation of right-wing opposition to any dialog on gun violence has meant that issues such as mental health and keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill never get fully explored. No one seems willing to hear about problems in society or pathologies that might be feeding into the minds of the unstable and contributing to their violent reactions to real or imagined threats. The Second Amendment advocates have paralyzed discussions about the prevention of school shootings. The radical gun-rights advocates have done our society a terrible disservice.

It is because of the inadequacies of the response by Virginia Tech and the fact that not nearly enough has been done to alert the public to the continuing danger of school shootings, that I feel obliged to write this book. Just because some things were done in response to the Tech shooting, does not mean that the correct things or enough things were done. Indeed, the voices of those who wanted to look at all the factors surrounding the school massacre appear to have been drowned out by a chorus of some conservative activists who poisoned the attempts at a thoughtful, sober, and thorough investigation of the tragedy. How else can you explain the omissions and errors that still exist in the Governor’s Review Panel Report of the Virginia Tech shooting?  I examine the flaws in that report in later posts.

A variety of causes--including broken communications, misunderstandings of our laws on privacy, failure to follow emergency procedures as written, and the incompetence of some people in positions of power--played into the terrible events before, on, and after April 16, 2007. There were a variety of interacting causes that aided and abetted Cho’s shooting rampage.  There are a multiplicity of causes that led to this nation’s worst school shooting and for intelligent people to brush the tragedy aside saying “no one can be responsible for when or how others will act” is nothing less than cowardice to face the truth and a shameful willingness to exploit and manipulate a tragedy for personal or ideological reasons.

           The Virginia Tech families cannot move on or begin to heal as long as the lies and the half-truths persist. If one parent reads my words and then takes action to protect the life of his or her child, then I will consider myself to have been successful. If one politician, after reading the book, has the will to push through legislation to keep guns out of the hands of unstable people, and if he or she finds the determination to address the societal problems that make the U.S. so violent, then I have been a success. If my words can help prevent just one campus shooting, then I have met and exceeded my expectations for this book. So I begin my postings on the Virginia Tech tragedy.