One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Guns don't kill people. Crazy people with guns kill people. Crazy people who slip through loopholes in gun laws kill people.
Everyone knows when Cho Seung-Hui got his guns. Nobody knows when he went bonkers.
It had to be before December 2005, when a Virginia judge found him "an imminent danger to himself because of mental illness. A temporary detention order commanded that the 5-foot-8 Virginia Tech student be taken to Carilion St. Albans Behavioral facility in Christiansburg.
The order claimed he was "mentally ill and in need of hospitalization, and presents an imminent danger to self or others as a result of mental illness, or is so seriously mentally ill as to be substantially unable to care for self, and is incapable of volunteering or unwilling to volunteer for treatment."
Except, Special Justice Paul M. Barnett's order had an asterisk.
The judge also checked a box that read: "The alternatives to involuntary hospitalization and treatment were investigated and were deemed suitable. I have found that there is a less restrictive alternative to involuntary hospitalization and treatment in this case. I, therefore, direct that the person named" receive court-ordered outpatient treatment.
A domino fell then, striking another that was his reputation as a serial stalker of coeds. Another domino fell when his writing teacher complained to the university about his disturbing writing. More dominoes fell last February, when he bought a 22-caliber pistol, and in March, when he bought a 9 mm handgun.
After being adjudicated as dangerous and mentally ill, he was free. Free to plot and commit the worst college massacre in U.S. history. Why?
Three reasons: the judge and the mental health expert let him fly over the cuckoo's nest; a university didn't fully protect students and faculty; and, finally, a potential assassin walked through a loophole in gun laws. If he had been forcibly committed, he could not have bought guns legally.
Forget new gun laws.
This debate mustn't be over government trying to "take away our guns." It's about keeping crazy people from arming themselves as part of their paranoid delusions.
Sen. Claire McCaskill is about the only one in Congress trying to find common ground, not politicize this tragedy.
"Protecting innocent victims while at the same time protecting gun ownership is obviously still a work in progress," said the Missouri Democrat. "Hopefully, this incident will refocus our attention on appropriate gun-safety measures."
There are mentally ill people who leave the rest of us alone. They are medicated. They get therapy. If you lived in Blacksburg, you'd probably be popping anti-depressants like Pez right now.
But there is a difference between someone under treatment for depression or bipolar disorder and someone court-certified as a threat and then given a pass. This isn't about medical privacy; it's about an adult with a campus police record and a district court order.
The gun lobby feels vindicated. But what is legal isn't always right. On background checks, replace the reference to "involuntary" commitment and just ask if there ever was a detention order for commitment, period.
Admittedly, take away the guns and you still would have the craziness. You'd still have the guy who interrupted his killing spree to mail NBC News those tapes of him armed with two guns, a hammer and a knife. He still would have been a paranoid loner with a Christ complex who idolized the Columbine killers.
He ought not to have been on a college campus. He should not have flown over the cuckoo's nest to slip through a loophole where he could legally obtain a firearm and turn it into a weapon of mass destruction.
Think he was crazy? What about us?
Rhonda Chriss Lokeman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a columnist for the Kansas City Star. To find out more about Rhonda Chriss Lokeman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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