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Today's Note from a Madman

Monday, April 23, 2007


The NRA Cares(?)

The National Rifle Association joins the entire country in expressing our deepest condolences to the families of Virginia Tech University and everyone else affected by this horrible tragedy.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.

We will not have further comment until all the facts are known"
-Statement by the NRA, from NRA.org, April 18, 2007 (Click on Wayne LaPierre's "What They Didn't Tell You" link)

It appears that, even after many, many more facts are now known about the killings at Virginia Tech, that the National Rifle Association and Mr. LaPierre's daily blog "What They Didn't Tell You" are keeping quiet even after these new facts are known. Here are some of the facts:

FACT: A mentally disturbed young man obtained two handguns.
FACT: he obtained them legally in a state (Virginia) where not only are you automatically given a gun permit just by asking, but you are legally carrying a gun if you bring it in from outside the satte.
FACT: it's easier to get a gun permit than a driver's license in Virginia and many other states.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up
I've heard an argument from the "Gun-Right" that if guns were permitted on the Virginia Tech campus, there would have been many students with concealed weapons, any one of which could have killed Cho Seung-Hui before he murdered as many teachers and students as he did. Well using that logic, why don't we just arm everybody on the New York City subway, as my brother Michael suggests (in jest). In that way, we all stand a gun-fighting chance.

In the last NRA news, which you can get by watching NRA.org or by listening to Sirius radio, the shootings at Virginia Tech wasn't even in the top ten news stories. In its stead was an attack of the Brady Campaign to end gun violence. Wouldn't it be something if the NRA actually tried to work with the Brady's, as they call them, instead of battling them?

One more thing about the NRA: Their magazine (or one of them) is called "First Freedom". Funny how they just leapt over that pesky little "First Amendment". That's the one which guarantees Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom to assemble and petition the government with our grievances and Freedom of the Press. Funny how our founding fathers put this one at the top and didn't include a "Freedom to bear arms" in it.

If gun rights is Freedom number one to the NRA, just where does the REAL first amendment stand?

Why are the likes of Wayne LaPierre so silent on the Virginia Tech shootings? Someone ought to ask them.

-Noah Greenberg

More on Amendment Number 2

If the Second Amendment grants me the right to arm myself to the teeth without restrictions, then I should be able to acquire an F-15 fighter, a B1 bomber, or my own private army, complete with my own nuclear warheads. If not, where then do we draw the line? I am Jewish. Half of my cousins are Israeli. Can I legitimately claim the Uzi as part of my heritage? After all, I fast on Yom Kippur and eat Matzo during Passover.

The Second Amendment, as ratified, states:

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

I would like to see the second amendment amended to read as follows:

"A well regulated defensive force, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of citizens to defend their persons and their country shall not be infringed."

This means you can't keep someone from serving based on their sexual orientation. But is also means we don't have the right to 'pack heat.'

-Larry Furman

Some More Thoughts on Amendment Number 2

I forwarded your "Madman" concerning the Second Amendment to my cousin, Jim Cunningham. Jim is a retired teacher (about 15 months younger than me) who, for 31 years, taught AP American Government. Upon his retirement, he worked as an Interpreter, at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia where he very quickly became the "go to" guy for anybody who needed further interpretation on complex Constitutional issues. As you can see, he went well beyond my request for some clarification on the Second Amendment. Jim said that he would welcome a daily dose of the "Madman". Be advised, however, that he has a lot of time on his hands now that he's retired and would probably be more apt to respond more frequently to your emails.

As for the "Madman". You've really attracted some whackos, lately. I'm referring specifically to two recent letters. In one, the letter writer welcomes the demise of Don Imus and said it was time to get rid of the others referring to the likes of Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity. She would be well advised to know that Alan Combs was also on that list put out by "Media Matters", to which she was obviously referring. I think it's very scary that some people are advocating "Thought Police". Next thing you know, Noah, they'll be on your doorstep monitoring your every word.

In another letter, the writer alleges a conspiracy in the auto accident that almost killed Gov. Corzine. The Governor remains in critical condition and we all hope for a recovery that now looks like will take months. It now appears that the Governor's motorcade was responsible for the accident. 91 mph and no seat belt! All of this while rushing to a photo op in connection with the lynching of Don Imus! Interesting to note that, at that meeting, the ladies from Rutgers found it in their hearts to accept Imus' apology and forgive him.

-Bob Driscoll

From Jim Cunningham


Bob; It is always my pleasure to point out the constitutional interpretations that have evolved over the 220 years since that amazing document was first drafted. And then to add the First Ten Amendments in 1791 was a stroke of pure genius - praise be to Mr. Madison!!!

As to the Second Amendment - A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The Second Amendment is the only part of the Bill of Rights that has an introductory clause defining its purpose. Because a militia is "necessary to the security of a free state," the amendment says, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Some legal scholars interpret the first clause of the Second Amendment as giving the people the right to bear arms only as part of a "well regulated militia." To these scholars, such a militia wood be today's National Guard, which is the modern-day successor of the minutemen of the colonial period [Which I might add was developed by the British during the French and Indian War].

Other scholars [including me] emphasize that a militia, at the time of the adoption of the Bill of Right, consisted of "the body of the people," as affirmed in several state resolutions proposing that a bill of rights be added to the Constitution.

As of 2002, the Supreme Court had not yet ruled definitively on whether the Second Amendment protects an individual or collective right to bear arms. In United States v. Miller (1939) the Court upheld the National Firearms Act of 1934 against a Second Amendment challenge. The act required sawed-off shotguns, a favorite weapon of gangsters [ the Twenty-first Amendment wasn't passed until December, 1933. Oh yeah, the Eighteenth Amendment, 1919, created Prohibition and such legendary antiheroes as Alphones Capone and Chicago] to be registered. However, in 2001 a federal appellate court did rule that the Second Amendment protected an individual right to bear arms outside the militia.

The Supreme Court has held that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states, so it does not bar gun control measures by local or state governments. In 1982, a federal appellate court upheld an ordinance by Morton Grove, Illinois, that banned the possession of handguns in the home. In Printz v. United States (1997), the Supreme Court did declare the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to be unconstitutional, but not based on the Second Amendment. The Brady Act required local law enforcement officers to run background checks before authorizing handgun purchases - remember that the Second Amendment doesn't apply to the local or state governments!

In Federalist 46, James Madison emphasized "the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation."

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

The voyeurism over the tragedy in Blacksburg, Virginia on April 16th has diminished, but is not quite over. It’s no longer the *only* news story in America. But it is still occupying our attention in the way mayhem tends to do.

Amidst all the endless news-gathering, hand-wringing and 20/20 hindsight, there has been little substantive commentary. Still, there *is* much to be said about what happened last week in Virginia, much that *needs* to be said, particularly if we want to avert similar mayhem in the future.

I teach at a large university and have taught college writing courses for more than 20 years. Writing courses are where students are most likely to vent their inner turmoil and torment. For many young students, writing is catharsis and pseudo-therapy more than it is actual scholastic achievement. I have taught many students who are not meant to be writers, but who definitely have needed the outlet of writing to assuage their post-adolescent pain and frustration.

Much of the recent discourse about Cho Seung-hui, the 23-year-old mentally ill senior who shot 47 people at Virginia Tech, killing 32 and himself, has centered on his writing. His tales of incest and abuse, rage and murder terrified and repulsed both teachers and fellow students. Those writings, coupled with anti-social behavior that included taking photos of female students in class, stalking female students and threatening female teachers, were outrageous enough to have forced some teachers to remove Cho from their classrooms.

The stalking incidents and threats were referred to police and resulted in Cho being involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation in December 2005. There he was mandated to have recurrent psychiatric treatment and medication. There is no record that he ever did, however.

Yet despite this troubling behavior that unsettled a significant population of the college, according to the Virginia Tech administration, which is now struggling to absolve itself of any responsibility in the killings, Cho’s actions in the years he attended the school were not egregious enough to cause the university to expel him.

This insistence by the administration that they bear no responsibility, contradicts their own actions and ignores the reality that female students and professors filed complaints not just with the university, but also with police about Cho. On April 19th, Cho’s great aunt, Kim Yang-soon, said Cho had been diagnosed with autism when he emigrated to the U.S. when he was eight years old.

Therefore, Cho had been known to be seriously mentally ill for no less than 15 years.

Not everyone who is mentally ill becomes a mass murderer. Nor are all mass murderers mentally ill. The boys who committed the murders at Columbine eight years ago were not mentally ill. Nor was the architect of the Oklahoma City bombings, Timothy McVeigh. Nor was Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attacks.

But untreated mental illness is indeed a ticking time bomb: depression can lead to suicide, psychosis can lead to murder. In Cho’s case, mental illness led to both.

Yet it needn’t have. Cho could have been stopped, he could have been helped; the deaths and injuries could have been averted. Mental illness is chronic, not terminal. It can be treated.

It *must* be treated.

I grew up with a severely mentally ill mother who was often catatonically depressed, frequently violent and periodically suicidal. Mental illness can destroy families; it certainly destroyed mine.

But when I was growing up, no one talked about mental illness. In 2007, mental illness is no longer a secret and should be a constant topic of national discourse, because one in five Americans will suffer from some form of mental illness in his or her lifetime. That’s 60 million Americans who will have mental illness–far more than have breast cancer, AIDS or even diabetes.

So why the silence? Because it is this silence that led to the tragedy at Blacksburg.

Mental illness is not a crime, it’s a disease. Sometimes a crippling one. Cho was clearly beset with demons most of us are fortunate enough to have escaped. He was incapable of relationships with others. His poetry instructor, Professor Lucinda Roy, a soft-spoken black woman with a lilting British accent, said he terrified her. She also said that Cho was the loneliest person she had ever met. Her compassion for him was outweighed only by her fear of him. She was forced to remove him from her classroom and tutor him alone because students ceased coming to class because they were so frightened and disturbed by him. Roy and her assistant had a code word for when Cho was there, in case police needed to be called.

Having taught for two decades, I can attest–this is incredibly extreme. And no instructor should be forced to teach under such circumstances. No woman should be placed in such a dangerous situation with a male student.

The inability to form attachments and feel empathy toward others is a factor of autism and of some forms of mental illness, but there is no indication that Cho was ever treated for either, even when he was institutionalized. But it does explain why he became more and more withdrawn, isolated and, apparently, delusional.

If Cho was diagnosed 15 years ago, doesn’t someone bear responsibility for his being treated? His parents? The college acting *in loco parentis*? The psychiatric facility that treated him? If Cho’s behavior was becoming more and more erratic and dangerous, and there were numerous accounts that it was and a long paper trail indicating the escalating complaints against him, didn’t the university bear responsibility for doing something about that behavior, even if it was simply to expel him from the school?

Had Cho been expelled, or the school or police contacted his parents (who have been disturbingly silent), this tragedy could have been averted.

But then, there is also the matter of the guns. How was a man who had so recently been *involuntarily* committed to a mental hospital, able to buy guns at all?

The Virginia Tech mayhem as a clear indicator of how gun control is unenforced in the U.S. It is so easy for anyone–including someone like Cho, a recent mental patient with a history of stalking and threatening behavior–to get not just a hunting rifle, but an automatic weapon.

Cho bought a 9mm Glock–a gun used by police. This particular gun can fire close to 100 bullets in a minute. Cho shot each of his victims three or four times, according to police. As I was researching information on his weapon, this pop-up appeared: “Get new Bullets 9mm on eBay Express. Happy Shopping!”

Good to know I can get my bullets on eBay so that I needn’t even leave my house. Or dorm room.

The NRA–craven and repellent an organization as exists in America today–said of the murders that they “deplored the tragedy,” but declined to comment “until all the facts are known.”

The facts of the dead students and professors and mentally ill killer? What facts are yet unknown? A mad man was able to walk into a gun shop and, according to the gun shop owner (five other guns used in murders have been bought from his shop, according to ABC news), buy his guns and rounds of ammunition in “about 20 minutes. It was a simple transaction.”

A simple transaction that led to 33 deaths and 15 injuries and countless traumas.

And yet there are those who have said the problem at Blacksburg was that there were too *few* guns. That had other students and professors been carrying concealed weapons, Cho would not have done the damage he did.

Or far more people would be dead, with bullets flying as if it were the Wild West. Or Philadelphia, America’s gun capital.

Gun advocates were less equivocal than their parent organization, the NRA. Mark Steyn and John Derbyshire at the conservative online magazine National Review blamed the victims at Virginia Tech for not having guns of their own and for not using force. (“Why didn’t they rush the guy?” complained Derbyshire, who called the no-gun policy at the school “absurd” and “sissifying.”)

Steyn and Derbyshire have castigated the Virginia tech students and professors for “corrosive passivity,” apparently forgetting that two professors, Jamie Bishop and Liviu Librescu, gave their lives for their students. Bishop was a 35-year-old German professor and Librescu a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor and visiting Israeli professor. Both men attempted to block the doors of their respective classrooms so that students could escape through windows. Both men were killed. It’s difficult to imagine how either man could have been more heroic, and neither seemed to have suffered from what conservatives are calling “liberal feminization and emasculation” of the American male.

Yet it was not emasculation of the American male that was the problem at Blacksburg. Rather it was the institutionalization and rationalization of violence against women that allowed Cho free reign to terrorize female students and professors for several years, unrestricted and unstopped. And then, on the day of the shooting, the Virginia Tech administrators and president defended their inaction at even attempting to notify the campus that two people had been murdered by saying, “We thought it was *just a domestic*.”

The perception was that the killer had murdered his girlfriend and her lover, as was repeatedly reported in the first hours after the event.

Had the university attached any real importance to the fact that Cho was targeting women–fellow students and professors alike–for years, his first victim might not have been a female student and the male RA who came to her aid.

The media attention given to Cho’s rampage sans any useful deconstruction of the events has been disproportionate at best. The release by NBC news–followed quickly by rival networks–of the videotapes Cho sent them between his first murders and the second wave of killings has served only to ratchet up the trauma for those victimized. What’s more, it provides a kind of primer for those like the three students at three separate colleges who were arrested in the days after the event for voicing their sympathy and appreciation for Cho’s actions. Copycat killings after notorious murders are more and more frequent, as an FBI specialist noted on April 20th. And the rage Cho felt is hardly singular. The majority of murders in America are committed by young men between the ages of 15 and 30. Cho is a statistical anomaly only in that he was so obviously mentally ill. Most of America’s young male killers are merely filled with rage and can access guns more easily than they can self-control.

There are, of course, lessons to be learned from this senseless, horrifying tragedy. One is that mental illness must be addressed in America. We simply cannot afford to ignore its impact, particularly on teens and young adults: Suicide is the leading cause of death among college students.

Another is that violence against women is not some separate category of violence. If walking up to a stranger and hitting them would get you arrested, if stalking a stranger would get you locked up, then doing it to a woman you know is no less criminal. Police, university administrations, college boys–all need to comprehend that women are equal under the law and “a domestic” is a crime in which a woman is being beaten, raped or murdered by a man she knows. It’s a crime. For Virginia Tech’s President Charles Steger to minimize the first murders with that comment was egregious enough. But Steger minimized Cho’s behavior toward female students and professors over several years, which suggests his comments about the initial two murders are part of a pattern that should make parents consider whether their daughters will be treated equally at Virginia Tech to their male peers.

Finally, the media’s near-glorification of Cho through their endless coverage has made him an idol for disenfranchised teenage boys all over America just aching for revenge against those who bully them. In a nation obsessed with its fifteen minutes, Cho achieved more than his share of air-time and fame, even if it was posthumous.

Oprah told her audience the day after the murders than we should ignore Cho and focus on those he murdered. No. We can’t learn from the victims, we can only learn from the killer. Learn that mental illness is not a cause for shame but a physiological disease that needs treatment like asthma or diabetes or cancer. Learn that violence against women is no less serious than violence against men. Learn that guns do indeed kill people, no matter what the NRA’s sloganeering says and that there is no sport but murder at the other end of a 9mm Glock. Learn that we add to the atmosphere of violence when we engage in the kind of media voyeurism that has been evidenced in the past week. And learn that when pain is the only emotion someone feels, sooner or later that person will want someone else to share it. Cho was as much a victim as those he killed. And the true tragedy at Blacksburg is that if so many had not turned their backs on him, he might never have turned a gun on others.

And Jenny Hanniver Contributes:


This outstanding, thoughtful article by Victoria Brownworth needs to be read and circulated, and please do! I would like to applaud her observations and add a few. My conclusion (and, I believe hers) is that Charles Steger, the president of VPI, should be fired post-haste for being one of the primary causes of this horrendous crime, and perhaps he should also be prosecuted for failure to fulfill his public obligations. Obviously he and the VPI corporation should be sued by survivors.

Although health conditions that can trigger murderous hostility surely must be spread rather evenly throughout the world, all of us know that in Western ("civilized") society, outbreaks of violence occur at a significantly higher rate in the United States than in other Western nations, especially in the so-called Bible Belt. It means that insecure fantasists generally do not act out their fantasies where these are denounced as crimes by society, but are more likely to do so where the fantasies are perceived as socially acceptable to "he-men". Most mass-scale assault weapon and hate-crime killings arise in cultures and religions that have a large underclass of poor (insisting that it's always their fault), foster male aggrandizement and militarism, resent and suppress women, practice racial bigotry and homophobia, and make fun of boys and men who deviate from the norm--differences being interpreted as "gay" whether they are or not. "Deviation" equals "deviant" and deviants are fair game to "he-men". Cho evidently suffered that sort of put-down for years.

I've lived in many parts of the country and can attest that locally acceptable attitudes affect personal moral standards. During grade school and early high school I lived mostly in Illinois, but also in Wisconsin and spent many summers in Minnesota. Both states impressed me as civilized. Minnesota and Wisconsin have histories and outspoken cultures of economic and social progressivism alongside economic (not usually extremist) conservatism. Both were early leaders in women's suffrage, both ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Neither has a death penalty, and like most of the non-death penalty states (the others are Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia) they have lower violent crime rates than those states that do practice execution. Wisconsin has one of the nation's lowest rates of violent crime. The highest rates are found in places like Texas with its history of indiscriminate executions. These statistics are no coincidence.

In contrast, I spent several childhood summers in rural Tennessee and Nashville with relatives. In Nashville I observed swaggering neighbors with names like "Buck" and "Bubba", both of whom, according to my aunt and uncle, smacked around their wives. (They felt sorry for the wives, but never did anything about it. No one did.) In 1951 my parents moved to Florida where I lived for six years until I graduated from college and went into the Navy. During marriage I lived in Virginia (including Blacksburg) for almost ten years and Texas for four. Although some of the cities--Austin, Arlington, Roanoke--have large liberal cultures, local attitudes are heavily influenced by fundamentalist religion. This is not the authentically Christian evangelicalism of Bill Moyers and Jimmy Carter, but endless Sunday rantings, radio broadcasts, televangelism, billboards and blogs fostering a retributive, power-mad pseudo-religion of hell-fire, rapacious competition and male domineering that wants women to stay "in their place," preaches white supremacy and eradication of anyone perceived as different (including gays and immigrants), wants to nuke every country where a leader says something they judge to be demeaning to America, and convinces schoolboys that to be masculine a guy has to swagger around and carry a firearm. In these places, shooting other people is not only understood as acceptable, but subtly preached. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a ticking time bomb.

As Victoria tells us, it doesn't have to lead to inevitable disaster. Intervention could have saved all these people. But the top leadership of mental health, firearm regulation, psychiatry, and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, the university itself, utterly failed. Although that seems unbelievable, Cho's obviously threatening behavior didn't cause his commitment to a mental hospital or even expulsion from VPI. The first selected victim being female, the male victim wrongly viewed as her lover, their deaths weren't important enough to warn the students and faculty that a murderer was loose on campus. According to VPI's president, it was "just a domestic crime". Talk about fantasizing! Shame on my alma mater. Fire Charles Steger,and get someone with common sense and civilized values into that office.

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-Noah Greenberg