Column: What might have been

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 20, 2007

Last week, I began a list of my top issues of concern for the next president.

This week’s shooting death of 32 students at Virginia Tech alters my list somewhat, and will no doubt play a role in the campaigning over the next several months.

When Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English major, killed the students, then turned the gun on himself, he had to know what an impact the act would have on the country.

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In fact, his video sent to NBC indicates he had illusions of his grandeur, comparing the impact to that Jesus had on the planet.

But there is no doubt he has opened dialogue about many issues.

School security: Every school in the country is now reviewing their security measures to see if an event like Monday’s massacre could happen on their campus.

The truth is most could probably improve campus security, but no action can prevent a mentally unstable individual from going on a shooting rampage.

Gun control. It’s already happening on talk shows, news shows and in newspaper columns across the country. The shooting has spurred talk of handgun violence; the laws as to who should be able to purchase a gun (Hui was able to legally purchase the handguns used in the shootings, despite being a permanent resident, but not a citizen); regulations concerning those with mental illness purchasing a gun.

Which brings us to the next issue:

Mental illness. College students have a lot of stress. According to a report released by the the American Medical Association, there are approximately 1,100 suicides and 24,000 suicide attempts annually on college campuses among students ages 18 to 24 years of age.

As for Hui, a couple of professors have spoken out, saying they were concerned about his mental health. One referred him to the university’s counseling services, where he was assessed. It is not known if he were treated, or if so, what that treatment entailed.

The lesson to be learned here is that mental illness is a real disease, but it does not usually turn to violence.

“Severe mental illnesses are medical illnesses. They are different from episodic conditions. They are different from sociopathic disorders. Acts of violence are exceptional.

Treatment works, but only if a person gets it,” according to a statement released by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that the likelihood of violence by people with mental illness is low. In fact, “the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small,” according to the report, released by PRN Newswire.

“More often, people living with mental illness are the victims of violence,” according to the press release.

Immigration reform. We are likely to hear groups ask for a decrease in the numbers of international students.

Certainly, there will be debate about whether or not a non-citizen should be able to legally purchase a gun.

No matter what debate is stirred, it won’t change the fact that 32 lives were snuffed out in a senseless act. And we’ll never know what might have been.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.