Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Shooting at Virginia Tech

The nation wrings its hands at yet another tragedy involving an armed assailant murdering innocent individuals and then himself. Each time this happens, it is strangely treated as if it was an isolated event. There is a definitive pattern in the unfolding of the reporting of such an event. First, a wave of sentimentality sweeps the nation. A considerable amount of grief and consternation is expressed by those far removed from those immediately impacted. Next, the assailant is identified and his personality and mental deficiencies are analyzed in exquisite detail. Even the victims and their immediate families are scrutinized and evaluated. Then blame is found in order to emphasize that such an event could have been mitigated if not completely avoided. Once this paroxysm of national mourning is completed, it is all quickly forgotten.

In my mind, what is missing is a rational analysis of the real nature of these occurrences. That the perpetrator was mentally deranged is an obvious conclusion. From a purely statistical basis, there is going to be a small yet significant percentage of the population that will experience psychotic episodes, a condition that is a direct consequence of an organic disorder of the brain. There is no way to circumvent this reality.

However, the society at large carries a significant responsibility in regards to the horrendous outcome of these periodic psychotic outbursts. It is not reasonable to disconnect these mass killings from the all-pervasive presence and ready availability of firearms of such deadly capabilities. One would assume that the number of deranged individuals per capita should not vary from one nation to another; yet, these events seem to be particularly endemic to the United States. Most nations on the planet do not allow their citizens to carry and own firearms so readily and without regulations and legal impediments.

Furthermore, the social milieu of a nation at war, where extremely violent means are used to resolve political conflict on a daily basis, and one in which punishment is the primary resource of the justice system, can not be divorced from the severity of the outcomes of such human tragedies.

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