Since there undoubtedly will be a repeat of campus killings, probably in the not so distant future, what useful counsel on preventive measures can we offer students, faculty and campus police forces across America?
There have been the usual howls from the anti-gun lobby, but it's all hot air. America is not about to dump the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving people the right — albeit an increasingly circumscribed one — to bear arms.
A better idea would be for appropriately screened teachers and maybe student monitors to carry weapons. A quarter of a century ago, students doing military ROTC training regularly carried rifles around campus. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently recalled regularly traveling on the New York subway system as a student with his rifle.
Five years ago, Peter Odighizuwa, a 43-year-old Nigerian student killed three faculty members at Appalachian Law School with a semi-automatic handgun, but before he could wreak further carnage, two students fetched weapons from their cars, challenged the murderer with levelled guns, and disarmed him.
What should be banned from campuses are not weapons but prescriptions for antidepressants. Eric Harris, co-slayer (with Dylan Klebold) of 12 students and a teacher in the Columbine school shootings in 1999, was on Luvox, a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) of the same class as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. Initially, Harris had been prescribed Zoloft, but told his doctor he was having suicidal and homicidal fantasies. So the doc shifted him to Luvox.
Sixteen-year-old Jeff Weise, who killed 10 schoolmates at Red Lake High School on an Indian reservation in 2005, was on Prozac. The manufacturer said 4 percent of children in one of its tests of Luvox developed short-term mania. Other studies of the SSRI anti-depressants have claimed they have a 15 percent chance of prompting suicidal or homicidal reactions.
Cho Seung-Hui was on a prescription drug for his psychological problems. What exactly it was has not yet been disclosed, though the likelihood of it being an anti-depressant is high, since doctors on campuses dispense prescriptions for them like confetti.
The stupidity of the campus cops at Virginia Tech will undoubtedly cost the college hefty damages when bereaved parents launch a suit for culpable police and faculty negligence. There was plenty of evidence that Cho Seung-Hui was a timebomb waiting to explode. Students refused to take classes with him. His essays so disturbed one of his teachers with their violent ravings that she arranged a secret signal to another professor in case she needed security during her tutorials. It seems he may well have harassed female students and set fire to a dorm earlier this year. Students talked about him as a possible shooter. Three weeks ago, there were anonymous threats to bomb the engineering buildings. Come the first two slayings in the dorm and the cops don't raise the alarm or clear the campus.
When the mass murder session began in the engineering building, the police cowered behind their cruisers till Cho Seung-Hui finished off the last batch of his 32 victims, then killed himself. Then the police bravely rushed in and started sticking their guns in the faces of the traumatized students, screaming at them to freeze or be shot. Similar timidity was on display in Columbine, where Harris and Klebold killed students in the library over a period of 15 minutes and then committed suicide. The police finally mustered up the nerve to enter the library over two hours later.
Make laxity in closely supervising and, where necessary, committing visibly psychotic students grounds for termination. More than one teacher felt Cho was scarily nuts. They recommended "counseling," then didn't bother to review the conclusions of the counselors. And now it has emerged that Cho was actually institutionalized as a psychotic and eminent suicide risk in 2005. Yet when he returned to campus, the administrators didn't even tip off his roommate to be on the watch.
College administrators live in constant fear of declining student enrollment. At the first sign of trouble and adverse publicity they cover up. So, there's a double killing in the dorm at 7.15 a.m., after which Cho has time to go home, make his final home video, walk to the post office, mail off the video collection to NBC and head off to the engineering building with his guns. The school's first e-mail to students goes out more than two hours later. The ineffable Charles Steger, college president, said later, "We can only make decisions based on the information you had on the time. You don't have hours to reflect on it." Two dead bodies, a killer somewhere on campus, and Steger makes his big decision to do nothing.
Don't hire stupid administrators.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.