Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When Will We Wake Up?

Once again the warning signs were ignored, a mentally ill man bought a gun, six people are dead and another 12 wounded in Tucson, Arizona. Congresswoman Giffords is fighting for her life suffering from a brain injury that will undoubtedly leave her physically, mentally, and psychologically damaged. A beautiful nine-year-old girl who had just been elected president of her student council is dead. The parallels between the shooters at the Appalachian School of Law, Virginia Tech, and Tucson are striking. We need to look at those parallels, learn, and take action.

For those of us in Virginia, the Arizona tragedy should cause us to redouble our efforts to make our state, colleges and universities safer. Unfortunately we are headed in the other direction.

Increased spending on mental health is critical to preventing these shootings. The shooters at the law school, Tech and Tucson were all mentally ill. Yet what does Governor McDonnell do? He cuts funds for mental health programs and wants to privatize mental health. Privatization will, over the long run, cost more than if mental health were to remain in the hands of the state. The quality of care will go down, not up. Privatization will however, make McDonnell’s campaign contributors wealthy.

Other states have adopted laws to protect students from gun violence. For example in both Ohio and New York, if a professor, school administrator, or even students, feel that an individual’s actions are a threat to their safety, that person is removed. The head of security at Wright State University told me that if such a threatening individual is on campus, he has the authority to remove him or her, and take that person to a mental health facility for evaluation. That law, Governor McDonnell, does not cost money. It does take thought and action. New York has similar rules and laws in place. It is interesting that those individuals who argue against laws such as the ones in Ohio and New York, say they infringe on personal rights and freedoms. These people never talk about the rights or freedoms of those who are killed or maimed. They never talk about the parent who almost dies hearing that a child has been gunned down.

Governor McDonnell, as well as Attorney General Cuccinelli, appear bent on self-aggrandizement and promoting their careers, rather than thinking about school shootings and school security. Ex-Governor Kaine failed to take the necessary steps to prevent gun violence on school grounds, and now McDonnell is making the situation worse, not better. Both McDonnell and Cuccinelli wrap themselves in self-righteousness and ignore the needs of the state.

According to Christopher Strom, a retired sergeant of the New York police intelligence division, if you look at the Virginia Tech tragedy, you see: criminal possession of stolen property (Seung-Hui Cho’s medical records were found in the home of the former director of the university’s Cook Counseling Center); tampering with evidence in a criminal/civil investigation (critical information about the timeline of events on April 16, 2007 was withheld); witness intimidation (Professor Lucinda Roy who tried to get Cho help, was blackballed by the school administration—some were afraid to have any contact with her for fear of losing their jobs); obstruction of an official investigation; (the police, the ATF, and gun dealers refused to cooperate with the Governor’s investigative panel), and possible conspiracy (pressure on school faculty and staff to coordinate with the school administration before talking to the Governor’s Review Panel). Governor McDonnell was Attorney General at that time, and didn’t pick up on any of those things.

Then there is the current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. He seems to be on a crusade to deny people health care coverage, and destroy as much of the Obama administration’s policies as he can. Couldn’t he devote at least one hour a week toward preventing gun violence? For example, most school administrators, professors, and instructors are not clear on what their rights and responsibilities are here in Virginia. They don’t understand that many of the actions of the shooters at the law school and Tech fell under laws governing illegal stalking, they don’t understand their responsibilities to notify families and school officials about potentially violent behavior. Attorney General Cuccinelli, how about a statewide program to make sure all school officials are up-to-date on the law? That would be a great place to start—it cannot cost that much.

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