Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Newsweek interviews a killer, gets thoughts on gun control. And my thoughts on college mental health priorities

I'm struck by the Newsweek interview with Wayne Lo that Asian-Nation posted. Lo, who went to Simon's Rock College of Bard, fired 9 shots in 1992, killing 2 people. He seems so normal in his reaction to it all, and he even talks about how there should be gun control - how as an 18 year old, he could purchase a gun but he couldn't even rent a car. It is weird to read such lucid, rational responses from a killer, and part of me wonders if he isn't just happy to get some attention:

Do you believe that stricter gun control would help prevent such tragedies?
The people who do these things are people who don’t want contact. They wouldn’t be capable of going out there and stabbing people to death. But there’s such a disconnect when you’re using a gun. You don’t even feel like you’re killing anybody. The fact that I was able to buy a rifle in 15 minutes, that’s absurd. I was 18. I couldn’t have rented a car to drive home from school, yet I could purchase a rifle.

The other interesting he says is about waiting periods:

You were from Montana, and a member of the NRA. Had guns and hunting been a part of your life?
That night was the first time I fired a gun. Why should a person who has never touched a gun be able to buy one and the first time he fires it, be able to kill people? You wouldn’t be able to drive a car without a license.

What sort of gun control do you propose, then?
Ideally, guns should be eliminated, but I know that won’t happen. There should be stricter checks. Obviously a waiting period would be great. Personally, I only had five days left of school before winter break: school got out on Friday, and I did that on a Monday. If I had a two-week waiting period for the gun, I wouldn’t have done it.

I wonder if Seung Cho hadn't killed himself, would he live to regret his actions? On the other hand, Lo seems much more well-adjusted than Cho, and according to him, he had friends in college. According to his profile in wikipedia, he even called 911 and informed them that he was the shooter after his rifle jammed.

It is interesting to note that the father of one of the victims, Gregory Gibson, went on a quest to find answers after he lost his son Galen Gibson. He sought answers from the man who sold Lo the ammo, and even meets with Wayne Lo's family.

Nowhere is this more evident than toward the end of the book when he and his wife, Annie, meet C.W. and Lin Lin Lo. Both families are in horribly awkward situations. The Los want to convey their sorrow to the Gibsons but haven't contacted them because, understandably, they aren't sure their overtures would be welcome. The Gibsons want to meet the Los, but don't want them to think they hold them responsible for their son's actions. The encounter is not without its difficulties or moments of anger. But more characteristic is the scene where Mrs. Lo asks if she and her husband can visit Galen's grave to pay their respects, and you have the sense of people big enough to reach beyond their private grief.

Also similar to the VT shootings, Gibson places much of the blame on the school:
Gibson paints a damning picture of the college's failure to intervene before Lo went on his murderous rampage. Lo, in his time at Simon's Rock, had given off a number of warning signs that he might be prone to violent behavior; a few weeks before the shootings he had threatened one school official by claiming that he had ''the power to bring the college to its knees.''

But on the morning of the shootings, college administrators, after some initial hesitation, allowed Lo to pick up a suspicious package from an outfit called Classic Arms that had arrived for him in the college mail room. The parcel contained ammunition for a rifle Lo had bought at a nearby gun shop. That evening a friend of Lo's, after calling campus security and getting no answer, anonymously called the residence director of Lo's dorm, with whom Lo had had several run-ins, and warned her that Lo ''has a gun and will hurt someone or himself . . . tomorrow.'' But instead of calling the police, or even calling the campus security director at home, college administrators decided to take matters into their own hands. They evacuated the residence director and her family from the dorm. A couple of administrators planned to question Lo, but before they could, the shooting started.
Today, a friend proposed that schools take control to a much greater degree when they see that a student is mentally disturbed, or even just depressed, to the point of screening and kicking out students. My friends and I mostly disagreed with him, saying that so many young adults
are depressed and moody, and well, where do you draw the line? Part of this wasn't just about VT but also about how college deal with and help or fail to treat students. His point was that colleges, like high schools, are huge pressure cookers, and if we know that, then the schools need to be more responsible.

My friend who had her own nervous breakdown disagreed strongly, saying that the school did so much for her.

I don't think schools should over-react when a student has written something dark and morose. But I do know that at too many institutions, mental health needs are overlooked and underfunded. My alma mater had one therapist for every few thousand kids, and consequently, not enough time slots for therapy sessions. So they wound up prescribing meds to students, instead of investing quality time in working out their issues. I heard one stat that half the campus was on some kind of anti-depressant, which I think might have been somewhat inflated, but the point is that schools need to be more proactive.

In both these instances, administrators overlooked warning signs which they were told about by people close tot he perpetrator. And the hard part is, how do you know if the kid is just being moody, or if they are likely to harm themselves or others? We really don't want high schools and colleges flagging every single Asian American who writes a story containing violence. Because that's racial profiling. Nor would we want them to flag every single kid who expresses anger toward someone in their lives, because teens are all angsty and angry at their parents or the man, or whatever.

But perhaps if schools receive info from a teacher, they can ask the kid to see the school counselor, and the counselor, who should be an expert in these things, can over repeated evaluations gain a clearer picture. And if the school receives multiple corroborating pieces of info from multiple sources, then they can seek professional counseling outside the school.

It is to some degree understandable that school administrators don't want to be sued for forcing kids to go to counseling, and that school budgets keep shrinking, and when you're cutting classes, gym, arts, music, and other courses of instruction due to education cuts, it's hard to think of adding yet another expenditure to the budget. But I would say that school mental health has been overlooked and underfunded for too long - not just for the minority of a minority of kids who inflict massage damage, but also to the quiet kids who only kill themselves.

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