Lodge: Cho's choice: Murder

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Lodge: Cho's choice: Murder

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By Richard Lodge/Daily News staff
GHS
Fri Apr 20, 2007, 12:20 AM EDT

The debate over gun control in the wake of Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech had already reached the presidential campaign trial by midweek, and it's sure to surface many times between now and November 2008.

Why had it been so easy for Cho Seung-Hui to buy a 9mm handgun from a Virginia gun shop, then use it to kill 32 fellow students and professors at Virginia Tech, those within the gun-control faction asked?

If only the Virginia legislature hadn't voted down a bill in late 2006 that would have allowed students and staff at VT to carry guns on campus, Cho would have faced armed resistance before Monday became a massacre, declared the defenders of the Second Amendment.

This tragic slice of life in America is only partly about guns, although that's likely what the debate will boil down to. The Virginia Tech massacre is about mental illness and whether we can learn to recognize it and treat it.

As more comes out about Cho's disturbing behavior, the trail of red flags seems clear. One of his professors, Lucinda Roy, raised the alarm years ago about Cho's disturbing writings and behavior and tried to urge him into counseling. Virginia authorities revealed that in December 2005, a court magistrate ordered Cho to undergo an evaluation at a psychiatric hospital. The magistrate signed the order after an initial evaluation found probable cause that Cho was mentally ill and was a danger to himself or others.

So how could Cho so easily buy a handgun - legally - from a Roanoke gun shop to use in his murderous spree?

Tougher gun laws might have delayed Cho's purchase with a waiting period, but his lack of a criminal record would not have prevented the gun dealer from selling him the weapon. Should psychiatric exams be part of the process to buy a gun? There's not a legislature in the country that would have the backbone to do that. And even if they did, how would such an exam be done without excluding and stigmatizing anyone who has been treated for depression or sought psychiatric help at some point? Unlike a felony record, which is an obvious stop sign in the legal purchase of a gun, mental health records would be open to interpretation, and possibly abuse, by the reviewing authority.

But history shows you don't need to buy a gun legally to commit a massacre. Anyone bent on crime can buy a gun on the black market or steal one.

Closer to home, the tragic fatal stabbing at Lincoln-Sudbury High School earlier this year shows that a weapon as basic as a kitchen carving knife can be the means to a terrible end.

But for wide-scale school violence, the common thread of mental illness and easily obtained guns is clear.

For example:

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine High School killers, bought a rifle and two shotguns through a straw purchaser, illegally circumventing the law. Five years after the Columbine massacre and the suicides of Harris and Klebold, the FBI's lead investigator and several psychiatrists labeled Harris a clinical psychopath and Klebold as a "depressive" under Harris's influence.

In 1998, Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, stole seven firearms from the home of Golden's grandfather and used some of them to kill four students and a teacher at a school in Jonesboro, Ark.

In March 2005, Jeffrey Weise killed his grandfather, stole two of his guns, then used those guns and a third one to kill seven people at Red Lake High School in Minnesota.

Even mass murderers who bought guns legally have tended to have mental problems as a common theme.

Charles Whitman, who used the rifle he bought at a hardware store to kill 15 people from his perch in a University of Texas clock tower in 1966, had been prescribed medication for depression.

In 1992, student Wayne Lo used an SKS rifle he bought legally at a store in Pittsfield, Mass., to kill a teacher and student - and wound four others - at Simon's Rock of Bard College in Great Barrington. Experts at his trial disagreed on whether Lo suffered from schizophrenia or simply had a "narcissistic personality disorder."

Time and time again, killers - almost always men - murder innocents. It's impossible to imagine that any of these killers is sane.

The Rev. Paul Papas, a pastoral counselor and president of NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Framingham chapter), agreed Wednesday that mental illness is a likely trait among those like Cho.

"It's all about choice, about a person's ability to choose," Papas said.

In Cho's case, evidence now says a professor and several others who knew Cho tried to convince him to seek counseling. Apparently immersed so deeply in his own mental quagmire, Cho rebuffed offers of help and rarely even spoke with other people.

Asked what lesson might come out of this week's tragedy in Virginia, Papas suggested that people paying attention and caring for others might be a good start.

"Anybody who has any kind of relationship with somebody else, hopefully they would see changes in that person and recognize that they might need help, and that they should seek help," Papas said.

But, as we're learning this week, getting through to a person as deeply troubled as Cho might be more than is humanly possible.

Richard Lodge is editor of The Daily News and writes a column published on Friday. His e-mail is rlodge@cnc.com.

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Original Source: <a href="http://www.dailynewstribune.com/columnists/x232888155">http://www.dailynewstribune.com/columnists/x232888155</a>

Licensed under <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/">Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5</a>.

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Richard Lodge/Daily News Tribune Staff

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2007-05-31

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Richard Lodge/Daily News Tribune Staff, "Lodge: Cho's choice: Murder," in The April 16 Archive, Item #323, http://www.april16archive.org/items/show/323 (accessed August 21, 2014).