My Turn: Questions are hard, but we must find answers to senseless killings

  • Posted: Monday, December 31, 2012 12:01 a.m.
Steve Shirley lives in Salisbury.
Steve Shirley lives in Salisbury.

By Steve Shirley
It is heartbreaking to think of losing a small child by any means. It is horrifying to think of someone shooting them. It is human nature to want to fix the problem. Do we really know what the problem is? Some countries have high gun ownership and low crime rates. Some countries have low gun ownership and low crime and murder rates. Other countries have low gun ownership and still high murder rates.

The shootings at Virginia Tech started in my son’s dormitory. The time from when I heard about the shooting until he could get an email to us is the most horrific yet clearest memory of my life. My heart goes out to the people who “didn’t get that email” after the Newtown, Conn., shootings. We can hug our kids and tell them we love them. It is so hard to protect them from senseless violence.


In the Virginia Tech massacre, Seung-Hui Cho was kicked out of a class for having “menacing” behavior that left females in the class feeling intimidated and frightened. His professor stated that she would resign before continuing to teach him. The courts found Cho to be “mentally ill and in need of hospitalization,” and he was declared to be an “imminent danger to himself and others” but was recommended for treatment as an outpatient. He was not held at a treatment facility and was left to receive treatment on his own, which he never did.

In the Aurora cineplex shootings, James Eagan Holmes’s attorneys tried to use his being a “psychiatric patient” as his defense. People around Holmes feared that he could be dangerous and suffered from mental illness. Holmes even described himself as having dysphoric mania.

In the Senator Gifford shooting, Jared Lee Loughner was often described as a loner. He was an abuser of alcohol and drugs, including psychedelics and hallucinogens. He was not allowed to return to his college until obtaining a mental health clearance stating that he was not a danger to himself or others, which he was never able to do.

In the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting, Wade Michael Page had known ties to white supremacy and Neo-Nazis. He obsessed over his belief of an impending “racial holy war.”

At the time of the Toronto mall shooting, Christopher Husbands was under house arrest. He had recently survived a gang attack that consisted of him being stabbed more than 20 times, which undoubtedly led to instability.

In the Connecticut shooting, Adam Lanza suffered from a personality disorder and people around him described him as “nervous and fidgety.”

How do we as a society allow these persons who’ve been declared an imminent risk to themselves and others to walk the street, to live alone, to essentially be accountable to and supervised by no one? In many cases, our laws protected these shooters. Not only did we turn our back to them — we legislated that the information about them not be available to those who needed to be aware. In some cases, it was not even available to the parents who supported them.

A second and more horrifying question then becomes how can said person legally buy a weapon? In an institution they would not have been allowed sharp objects of any kind. Yet we left them in a world where seemingly countless devices of destruction are available to them. We exposed them to a variety of news and social media that willingly affords them an opportunity for their 15 minutes of fame if they created adequate destruction.

There are serious issues in how we care for and protect the mentally ill. There is a need for improving the administration of, if not the content of, gun control policies. There is a need to reconsider rights to privacy versus the needs and risks of broader society. In considering legislation in any of these areas, there is also the need for careful deliberation versus wholesale changes to a Constitution and Bill of Rights that have served us well for some 236 years.

Countries with low murder rates seem to each have carved out their own unique solutions in broad gun and mental health policies, and culture. Culturally, have we become indifferent to crime? Have we become indifferent to the mentally ill? Have we become cavalier in our Second Amendment rights? Do we understand the significance of our rights and the responsibilities that accompany them? Can any of us really say we have done enough to be part of the solution? I do not know what the answer is. I am not even sure I know the full question, but pull together, U.S.A. — it is time we start carving.

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