ROFL: Random Outbursts From Lar! LarryNocella.com

23Apr/07Off

After VA Tech shootings: a Call for Mental Illness Awareness and First Aid

The shootings at VA Tech were one week ago today. It almost seems commonplace: another school shooting. What the hell is our society doing wrong? Other countries don't have this problem, do they? I don't know, but I've got at least one idea I think will help:

Mental Illness First Aid Training
Let's increase awareness about mental illness. In the same way a first-aid class gives amateurs (meaning non-doctors, non-EMTs) a checklist of things to look for that may indicate someone is having a heart-attack or stroke, those same classes can produce a checklist of things to look for in the case of an imminent mental breakdown. Sure, even if you see a heart-attack happening and you administer CPR, you still won't save every life, but at least you have a chance. Same here: education will only help.

People need to understand mental illness and not the mock those afflicted. It would be great if visiting a mental health doctor was as routine as visiting a physical health doctor. If someone breaks their leg, what do you say? That sucks, let's get you to a doctor. If someone is depressed, isolated, suicidal, homicidal, withdrawn, what should you say? That sucks, let's get you to a doctor.

All that being said, I want to make sure I don't come off as blaming the victims. It certainly seems that Cho was in and out of mental health trouble, but it still didn't stop this. In those cases, I suppose we have to hope society's other mechanisms kick in: in short, law-enforcement and much more difficult access to guns.

Take a Chance on a Panic
I take the proverb about "not criticizing another until I walk in his shoes" more seriously than most writers do. Even so, I simply can't believe that the day of classes was allowed to continue after the shooting. I suppose it was due partly to the pressures to continue classes: an alarm might cause a panic, it would cost lots of money, etc. After seeing what happened, I think the lesson for the future is, in the case of a shooting, shut down the entire campus for the day. Err on the side of caution. Take a chance on a panic. Send police cars through the campus with their megaphones on: Classes closed!

Fewer Guns, Please
Sadly, these shootings have occurred enough that the knee-jerk script is already written: if EVERYONE had a gun, this wouldn't have happened. If this wasn't a matter of life and death, that excuse would be laughable as the naked marketing ploy it is.

One of the stories that keeps cropping up in the news from Iraq is the persistence of "friendly fire." Understandably, in a gun battle, people can't always hear, they can't always see and they're terrified. Sometimes they end up killing someone on their own side. And those are the TRAINED and READY people – soldiers trained in the use of weapons who know they are heading into a combat environment.

Contrast that with a bunch of untrained college students expecting to attend a lecture suddenly coming under fire. Imagine as they all whip out their guns and begin blasting away. The deaths by friendly fire would likely far exceed those caused by the original shooter.

In fact, it would cause even more confusion: who IS the original shooter? Visualize this: Person A comes in and shoots a few people at random, Person B sees him and pulls out her gun, shoots him. Awesome! She's a hero! Not so fast! Person C just came on the scene and saw Person B shoot person A (the original shooter) so Person C, thinking Person B is the murderous one, shoots Person B. Now Person D is drawn to the gunfire and sees Person C shoot Person B, while Person A lays there dead. He starts firing. On and on and on, like dominoes, they show up and kill, each one first a hero, then a victim. Taken to a metaphysical extreme, the last man on earth will stand over the final victim and say: "Whew! I saved the day!"

If everyone has guns and is firing away, how might police snipers tell who is the bad guy? Imagine a shooter easily slipping into the crowd and pointing the finger at one of his victims and declaring himself the hero!

As for those who say, "Someone who wants to kill will find a way. They'll even use a knife." I'm not buying that for a second. Oh how I wish that Cho had decided to use a knife. How far would he have gotten trying to stab 32 people to death in broad daylight? I always turn to comedian Eddie Izzard to set pro-gun arguments to rest: "People say guns don't kill people, that people kill people… but I think the gun helps."

Airing the tape and "Going Postal"
Lastly, there was a lot of concern about the media airing Cho's video blog. There was legit concern that doing so might inspire copycats, or possibly cause even more pain for the families as the killer gloated.

I totally agree with those concerns, which is why I'll never use the phrase "Go postal." Not only is it a phrase that mocks mental illness, but it also serves as a glib joke on what was surely the most horrible day of some people's lives: when they found out their loved ones were killed. Imagine someone getting mad at a company and saying, "I'm about to go Cho up in here." Or "I'm going to pull a 9-11 on that fucking used car place." The world would come down on them. For some reason, "go postal" is acceptable.

Someone controlling our attention is not some kind of victory on their part any more than screaming in terror and pointing and when someone looks you laugh, "Made you look!" is some major accomplishment.

As for the tape, what's the alternative? Ignore it? Don't air it? I actually agree with how the tape was aired: just enough portions to get the idea, get the full story and blunt any kind of curiosity. If the tape was hidden completely that would have spiked the demand for it and some intern at NBC who made a copy could sell it for millions.

You have to face it: our attention can be controlled by other people. Is that a bad thing? No. Should we NOT talk about this event as revenge against Cho? That would be idiotic. It's a great paradox: you don't want him to control your attention or your thoughts, but the fact is, he can. He got attention. The way to get revenge is to prevent his delusions of grandeur and show him for what he is: an insane murderer. It may not sound like much vengeance, but it is. All we can do is stop the hate he wanted to spread.

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Larry Nocella is the award-winning author of the novel Where Did This Come From? available at Amazon and Xlibris and other fine online book stores. Where Did This Come From? is also available as an eBook. For more info, visit Larry Nocella's website at http://www.larrynocella.com/.

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