Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tragedy In Virginia

Well, that didn't take long did it? Mere hours after a tragedy, every opportunistic wanker, left, right and centre is jumping on the Virginia Tech shooting as proof positive that their own particular political idea is right.

For instance:

1. Dr. Phil seems to think violent video games are to blame.
2. The Gun Control crowd is screaming that the tragedy could have been averted if guns were banned
3. The Pro-Gun crowd is screaming that the tragedy could have been averted if guns were more plentiful.
4. Fox News is blaming anti-depressant drugs.

While I am loathe to link to some of the more sensational media on this, I think I need to, to make a point. And the point is this:

The shooter was a disturbed young man. He is to blame and no one or nothing else is. There may have been very little that could have been done in the immediate past or on the day of that could have prevented this.

It wasn't "video games" as Radley Balko points out:

"He's right, you know. Video games + psycho/sociopath _+ dose of rage = potential mass murderer. Here are some other recipes for potential mass murders:
  • Baseball card collecting + psycho/sociopath + dose of rage.
  • Furry fetish + psycho/sociopath + dose of rage.
  • Only eating orange foods + psycho/sociopath + dose of rage.
  • Napping + psycho/sociopath + dose of rage.

    School shootings haven't increased since the onset of violent video games. They're as exceedingly rare as ever. In fact, juvenile violent crime has dropped over the last 15 years (though there was very slight blip upward last year), the period over which we've seen the rise of violent video games."[emphasis mine].

  • The shooter is an almost textbook example of the suicidal spree killer along the lines of Charles Whitman, Pierre Lebrun, and various postal workers as Prof. Elliot Leyton points out in his book "Hunting Humans".

    This is a "school shooting" in so much as it happened to take place at a school. Given the shooter's pathology and seeming mental condition, it could easily have been a shopping mall or a place of employment. The setting is really irrelevant when dealing with a mentally unstable and violent person.

    Would gun control have prevented it? Maybe, because the shooter may not have been able to get a gun. Of course, he may have resorted to other weapons, homemade explosives, knives or something else, in which case we would be referring to him as "the bomber" or "the attacker". Its seems likely he was going to kill himself and take people with him at any rate.

    Would more armed students have prevented it? Maybe, as this has happened in the past, albeit under circumstances that would not be normal (one of the students was a police officer). Its just as likely that groups of scared, armed students flushed with adrenaline would have ended up shooting other scared, armed students flushed with adrenaline. Or innocent bystanders. Or themselves be shot by the first responding police. It could easily have been a much bigger tragedy.

    Anti-depressants? There is no proof the shooter was even taking them. Just more of Fox News being fear mongering arseholes (what else is new).

    In other words, mourn the terrible tragedy and try to learn what we can from it. Were there signs that could have led to an earlier intervention with the shooter, breaking him from his psychosis and getting treatment? Could Virginia Tech have handled their response differently to better protect students or reduce the number that were killed? These are the things that need to be learned from this.

    Everything else - EVERYTHING else - is political opportunism and positioning and those that delve into this deserve not our attention, but our derision and disgust. They need to get the hell of their favourite hobby horses and concentrate on the real issues in this - how a young man's mental state deteriorated to the point that he wanted to kill and how the school's administration reacted to the tragic events when they occurred.

    Everything else is self-serving bullshit. Ignore it.

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    At 1:12 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

    Perfect article.

    At 1:30 PM, Blogger Mike said...

    Thanks buddy.

    At 3:14 PM, Blogger KevinG said...

    Ah, reason. There is no substitute.

    At 2:25 AM, Blogger Stephen K said...

    It's very complex. There are clearly a number of factors resulting in the shooting spree, and guns are clearly one of them. Not saying that gun control in itself would have prevented the spree, but what could it hurt?

    At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Amen Mike. Amen.

    At 7:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


    You missed a point Mike.

    A court found that Virginia Tech killer Seung-Hui Cho was “mentally ill” and potentially dangerous. Then it let him go.

    …The evaluation came from a psychiatric hospital near Virginia Tech, where Cho was taken by police in December 2005, after two female schoolmates said they received threatening messages from him, and police and school officials became concerned that he might be suicidal.

    After Dr. Crouse’s psychological evaluation of Cho, Special Justice Paul M. Barnett certified the finding, ordering followup treatment on an outpatient basis.

    On the form, a box is checked, showing that Cho “presents an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.”
    Immediately below it was another box that is not checked: “Presents an imminent danger to others as a result of mental illness.”

    Women were receiving threatening messages from him - they were frightened enough to call the police and get "cease and desist" orders and it was enough to get him evaluated by a psychiatrist. But apparently threatening women isn't enough for a doctor to consider him an "imminent threat to others" - only to himself.

    This particular incident had more warning signs than most. How often do people have to die because the police or other people in authority don't take threats against women seriously?

    At 8:06 AM, Blogger Mike said...


    I think part of that could be filed under "how a young man's mental state deteriorated to the point that he wanted to kill ". Apparently a professor at the school reported him as well, for his disturbed writings. When they heard about the shootings, some kids who knew him guessed correctly who the shooter was.

    So I'm not disagreeing with you. Trying to find out why such obvious signs were ignored is quite legitimate. Blaming it on video games, prozac, atheists, public schools or any number a political pet hatreds is not. It is blatant, crass political opportunism.

    At 2:46 AM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

    Great post mike, I agree and disagree.

    Obviously it's hard to look around the fact that this young man was a seriously damaged individual.

    These types of shootings have occured in other countries, but they have occured disproportionatley in North America. This leads me to beleive that there are societal triggers that turn people like Cho, Lepine, Klebold and Harris to kill.

    I'm loathe to point out what these triggers are. I wouldn't be able to wrap my head around it. It's a good thing those pundits and special interests are around to tell me what to think.

    At 10:37 PM, Blogger JG said...

    Great post. On the National the other day, they interviewed a grad student and his wife who believe that arming students is the answer. So concerned they were about something like this happening again that they were heading to school armed - the husband with a pistol on his angle and his wife with one under her shirt!

    It struck me that paranoia like that is far more libel to cause more accidental deaths than prevent another crazed mass shooting. Simply put, mass shootings such as the one at VT (regardless of whether they occur at an educational institution) are exceedingly rare events - literally arming yourself against the remote possibility of one is dangerous folly.

    At 11:19 PM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

    Hey Mike,

    I'm trying to get the bloggosphere behind the Spread the Net campaign.

    Read about it at:

    If you like what you see, please spread the word and encourage others to do the same.


    At 11:41 AM, Blogger flanok said...

    What a tragic day, but will we learn from it? probably not. We seem to relive these episodes over and over again.
    So let the polititions try to get brownie points, they wont succeed.


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