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The State of the Media — Why Now?
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The State of the Media

Reading about the incident at NIU you have to wonder if any of the reporters graduated from high school, much less college, based on their research skills and their inability to prioritize facts.

It has been emphasized that the killers at NIU and VTech both bought “gun related items” from the same Internet site. And this tells us what – that this place must have a pretty good price on Glock ammunition clips. What is the relevance of that information?

Almost as an afterthought they mention that like the VTech killer, the NIU shooter had mental health issues, this after they tell us he doesn’t match “the profile” of a mass murderer. While there is no actual profile of a mass murderer, I would think that it would be hard to classify someone who for no apparent reason murders strangers and commits suicide as sane, so maybe mental health should be included in this mythological profile.

If a doctor determines that a person can no longer operate a motor vehicle safely, in most states the doctor is supposed to notify the motor vehicle department. Maybe it’s time for the mental health community to consider flagging people at risk so they can’t buy guns and ammunition. Perhaps not a ban from ever owning weapons, but at least a significant hold until the problem can be stabilized.

The real issue is violence, because the weapon doesn’t have to be a gun, a doctor in New York was just hacked to death with a meat cleaver, but if someone is adjudged to be a threat to themselves or others by a professional, there really should be a system in place to prevent them from buying weapons. I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment, but there is no way I would be responsible for giving Britney Spears access to a firearm.


1 Michael { 02.17.08 at 12:18 pm }

That’s a little too Big Brother-ish for my tastes, Bryan. As you point out yourself, there are plenty of other means available for wreaking havoc that don’t involve guns, so going that route isn’t likely to do much to prevent further NIU- and Virginia Tech-like tragedies, though it might alter their compositions a little.

There’s also the question of what, exactly, constitutes impairment. As long as he was taking his meds, Stephen Kazmierczak was apparently a bright, inoffensive, polite, academically gifted young man who wanted to help people. It was apparently only when he was off his meds that his darker side came to the fore.

Before we rush immediately to think about gun control legislation (and I find it difficult to believe that I, of all people, am saying this, given my lifelong aversion to guns and anything to do with them), I think the better course of government/legislative action would be drastic reform of the mental health care system that allowed someone like Kazmierczak to fall through the cracks. Most insurance plans are lousy when it comes to mental health coverage. Given that he was a graduate student, his was probably even worse than usual. When they cover mental health at all, it is usually at a minimal level, with drastic restrictions on the amount of inpatient treatment that will be covered in any given plan year, insistence on using the cheapest possible pharmaceuticals (even when they don’t work or cause problems). When they do allow patients to switch to the more expensive name brands, it’s usually only after making them try every cheap alternative possible–and psychotropic drugs are not something you really want to mess around with that much: you want to find the one that works and get the dosage titrated so the patient gets some stability and is compliant with the regime.

Fix that problem first. Then we’ll worry about whether or not we need tighter gun controls–and if we do, how best to go about crafting and enforcing them.

2 Bryan { 02.17.08 at 8:04 pm }

The problem is that first they dumped people on the street under Reagan when they closed the psychiatric hospitals but never built the community clinics that were supposed to take their place. Then you have the problem of no one wanting to pay for the broken mess left in the wake, not insurance companies, not governments. Mental health issues got pushed down on law enforcement, a group that has its own problems and isn’t trained to deal with these issues.

The professionals need to be given the power, because they understand the problem. Right now the power rests in the hands judges and cops who don’t know what the best thing for the individual and society is.

Yes, he was fine on his medication, but who was supposed to ensure he took it?

I’m not saying take away people’s rights, I’m advocating a hold that can be quickly and effectively placed on the sale of weapons if there is a problem. A judge or a cop can’t make that call, it has to be a professional in the field.

You’re right that the mental health system is even more broken than the regular health system, and that has to be part of any reform. It’s incredibly stupid that a cop has to arrest someone under the mental health law and send them to secure psych facility, so someone can straighten out their meds – something that would take 15 minutes in a clinic with a counselor but I’ve watched it done for repeatedly, often at the request of the “suspect” because it’s the only way they can get help.