Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chardon Rampage

The shooting rampage in Chardon, Ohio, is a stark reminder to all Virginians of how little politicians have done to protect our schools. Following the Virginia Tech massacre, Richmond made promises to improve school safety on a wide range of fronts. Few of those promises have been kept.

The common threat connecting these killers is mental or emotional illness. The shooter at Chardon, an emotionally disturbed young man, proves that point again.

The official reports following both Columbine and Virginia Tech called for increased emphasis and spending on mental health in an effort to identify and get help for these future killers. In the crime analysis courses I teach, some of my students, who are mental health specialists, estimate that between 50 and 70 per cent of all crime in America could be prevented through improved mental health programs.

But Governor McDonnell and the Virginia legislature are cutting spending on mental health. Now, McDonnell proposes to privatize the state’s mental health program. Privatization has failed in other states. Furthermore, privatization will lead to a further decline in the quality of mental health care, thus helping to make the state more vulnerable to school shootings.

School safety is not cheap; mental health is not cheap. But what price would Governor McDonnell say is a fair price for the life of any student, staff, or faculty member?

I tried raising mental health and school safety issues with Delegate Ransone, Senator Stuart, and Congressman Wittman. They either don’t answer letters, or in Wittman’s case, he won’t take my questions on his phone survey. All three are afraid of the problem because it means addressing two issues: spending more money on mental health for school safety, and examining ways to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

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