Next Steps

It’s a week since the tragedy at Virginia Tech.  There have been numerous memorial services and gatherings around the state and in our area, including at George Mason University and Robinson Secondary School.  Everyone has worn the “VT” colors and expressed solidarity with the victims and their families, many of whom are our neighbors in Fairfax County.

What do we do next?

There is a sense, this time, that the same old verbal battles that crop up after every tragedy are a little too glib, a little too predictable.  Mr. Cho was literally a madman — a young man who was determined to harm the maximum amount of people.  There is no way in a free society to ever enjoy complete protection from such random acts of evil. 

However, there are things we can do today:

1.  Mental Health:  Mental health has been a neglected government service in Virginia.  In the era of de-institutionalization, many people are “put back on the street” despite paranoid and schizophrenic personalities that pose a threat to themselves and others.  There is no perfect answer to treating this condition.  In many ways, permitting mental treatment in a residential setting – as opposed to an institution – is more humane and more effective.  Yet there must be more scrutiny and more flexibility for those who are adjudicated as a “threat” due to mental dysfunction.  And one thing is crystal clear:  people with a court record finding mental illness should not be permitted to buy firearms.  Many of us thought this was the law in Virginia but Seung Cho slipped through the cracks.  That cannot happen again. 

2.  High-Capacity Magazines:  In 2004, Congress let expire the Federal semi-automatic weapons ban.  This may (or may not) be the time to re-open the discussion of that controversial topic.  However, one thing is clear to me — the high-capacity magazines with eighteen or more rounds that Mr. Cho used last week in his spree have no application in the civilian world.  There is no reason for them to be available in Virginia.  I don’t say this to scapegoat law-abiding gun owners (of which I am one).  Nor do I say it because Mr. Cho would not have found another way to kill – I think he would have.  I say it, because I simply feel it’s the truth.  And my father, who is smarter and knows these issues better than I do, feels the same way.

3.  Parenting:  Watching the coverage, I feel an odd sensation.  For the first time, seeing the young faces on campus, I felt closer in my life experience to the parents at Virginia Tech than the students.  I have three children.  They are my whole world.  Many times I’ve visualized about where they will go to college and how that will impact them.  As a parent, you tell your child to do the right thing.  You try to instill a sense of morality that will last beyond their time at home.  But the fight is never over, even when they go to college.  My parents still consider me a “work in progress” and I’m 39 years old.  Governmental institutions are no substitute for a parent’s love or a parent’s concern when a child begins to act erratically.  Parents are the first line of defense.  And the last.

At the end of the day, we have to focus on next steps.  We can spend weeks or months in assigning blame for the Virginia Tech murders.  It won’t bring anyone back to life.  However, if we don’t learn from this awesome tragedy, then we all have failed.  And that is truly unforgivable. 


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