Tuesday, February 28, 2017


On March 11, 2009, a disturbed 17-year-old named Tim Kretschmer killed 16 people at a secondary school in Winnenden, Germany wounded another 11 people, and then committed suicide.  On March 13th Denver Post columnist Mike Littwin wrote a poignant article capturing the frustrations most of us feel over these school shootings. His words are worth repeating:

“We are coming up on the 10th anniversary of Columbine, and you can expect new pages filled with tear-stained memories of that horrible day. After 10 years, the old questions will inevitably be asked anew. And we’ll struggle again to discover some kind of meaning from that day.

“But it turns out the story won’t hold, not after a week of fresh horror. Instead, the old unanswerable questions are being asked in other places. …

“And if there is one lesson to take from Columbine, it is that whatever happens, we never seem to learn anything. That’s how we come to meet again at the intersection where disturbed young men turn into psychopaths with access to guns.”

“Years later, after too many massacres, the killings are treated more like natural phenomena—they come, like tsunamis, and then drift from our consciousness, leaving death and sorrow in their wake.

“In each new town, the story line emerges—the flowers, the poems, the candles, the turn to religion, the questions about a just God, the young people learning far too young the meaning of tragedy, the photographs of the faces twisted in disbelief, the lives of the victims burned into memory.

“And I go to Virginia Tech, where the warning signs we had supposedly learned were ignored so completely that looking for answers seemed beyond hope.

“At Virginia Tech, we saw a student with serious and documented mental-health issues, who thought that Klebold and Harris were martyrs. Still, he was able to get guns and, as they say, do a Columbine. And those of us who covered Virginia Tech wondered again, if we were contributing to the next one—and what we could possibly do about that.

“In this story (Virginia Tech) if you remember, the killer had sent a video manifesto to NBC-TV, which had to decide whether to run it. The video gave voice to a killer who barely spoke at all. It was chilling, and it was disturbing and it gave voice, too, to the problems of the modern media.

“By now, we know too much and too little. Do video games make killers? Not likely. Do would-be killers find a home there? Of course. Do we know enough about guns and disturbed young men and tragedy? Sure. Did we decide in the ongoing culture wars, not to fight about guns anymore? You know the answer.” (To be continued)

Monday, February 27, 2017


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


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


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)