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)