Beyond Gun Control: An SMC Professor's Take

Illustration by Andrew Khanian

Illustration by Andrew Khanian

SMC English professor David Burak contributes to the Corsair with this piece focused on the issue of gun violence in schools across the U.S. 

Let me start with what might sound like an old school observation: parents should take responsibility for keeping their children (including those that might be considered grown) from possessing automatic weapons, as well as other weapons with significant destructive potential. Let me cite a significant example – i.e. Blaec Lammers’ mother, Tricia. When she became suspicious that her son was stockpiling ammunition and had purchased two AR -15's, Tricia Lammers called the police in Bolivar, Missouri and told them that she feared that Blaec was planning to launch some kind of attack.

After the police located the bearded Mr. Lammers at a local diner, he eventually acknowledged that he had purchased hundreds of rounds of ammo, as well as a ticket to the opening night screening of the second film in the Twilight vampire series. If he ran out of bullets for his AR-15's, he had planned to go to the local Walmart & kill the clerk at the gun counter, then take more ammo.

Lammers told police that he had intended to emulate James “The Joker” Holmes' 2012 killing spree at the midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” at a mall theater in Aurora, Colo. The “Batman” attack resulted in 12 dead and over 50 wounded.

In the meantime, let’s consider the irresponsible reaction of Jared Lee Loughner’s father after his son ran off with his Glock. However, Mr. Loughner couldn’t catch his progeny and instead of calling 911, dad went back to the house, sat on the couch and turned on a baseball game.

Let me suggest something that could’ve been done to prevent the murder of a half dozen individuals, and the wounding of about two dozen others, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

It seems obvious, but I'm compelled to emphasize that policy-makers should require that any student who is expelled for behavior of which could pose a danger to the lives of others, should be subjected to a substantive psychiatric evaluation, as well as follow up actions. This procedure could have provided the evidence for institutionalization of Jared Loughner. If that wasn’t the immediate result of a diagnosis, at least there could’ve been the probability of regular counselling, both for the son and his father.

Also in the realm of prevention, at the very least, a unit of every police force should be trained and mandated to make a preliminary diagnosis and to inform the parents of a mentally unstable young person that they are dealing with a situation wherein the son (or daughter) may pose an immediate threat to the lives of others. This collaborative effort can help facilitate the next step, possibly institutionalization.

The same argument could be made about former Virginia Tech student Seung Hui Cho. A local court directed him to get psychiatric counseling after Cho read a suicide letter to a suite mate. After Cho’s April 2007 rampage, which resulted in 33 deaths including his suicide, it was discovered that Cho had gone to only one of those counseling sessions, after which he disregarded the court’s directive. Could more counseling have led to containment and/or redirection of his ultra-violent tendencies, or, perhaps to his institutionalization? Possibly.

Either way, it’s apparent that specified representatives of both the justice system and involved educational institutions (V-Tech, in Cho's case) need to be more diligent in their oversight of a student who has been told by the court to undergo a period of counseling. While we can't say for certain whether psychiatric counseling would've helped Mr. Cho, we can find reason to hope in the form of a report cited on NPR.

Doctors had indicated that, after several years of psychiatric attention, Jared Loughner has begun to come to a realization ore: the extent of the trauma he has inflicted on families who lost a loved ones, as well as those who were wounded, due to his shooting spree in a Tucson mall parking lot.

In a related vein, state & federal laws need to be reconfigured so that a parent, like Mrs. Cho, is encouraged, rather than forbidden by law, to convey to university officials her apprehensions about her son's inability to cope with the stresses of higher education. Mrs. Cho had concerns that her son would stop taking the medications he'd relied upon to maintain some degree of stability since grade school (according to Wikipedia).

On a related note, I'm compelled to advocate that when substantive information is available, faculty members, including counselors, should be provided with a form of "early warning" regarding a student's potential for violence. A few years ago, I had a student who seemed to be ready to erupt if he felt any form of provocation. In his evaluation of the writing course he took from me, Jimmy (not his actual name) indicated that he was surprised that he grew to like the class. He went on to explain that this was his first time back in school, after two years in a juvenile detention facility. He'd been sent there because he "brought a gun to school to kill his English teacher."

In this era, it is rational to suggest that concerns for a student's privacy re: his past record of potentially violent legal offenses should be considered in light of the importance of protection of the lives of his fellow students and instructors. Hence, something as simple as a notation that a "student has demonstrated a propensity for outbursts of violence" would seem both appropriate and potentially helpful.