April 19, 2007

All I Have To Say About the Killings At Virginia Tech...

...is not said by me at all. I heard this on my local NPR station last night on American Public Media's Marketplace (link here), and it summarizes my opinion on the matter pretty well:

"In the United States, if you're seriously depressed, you can buy anti-depressive drugs but only if you have a prescription from a doctor.

Anti-depressants are enormously beneficial to millions of people, but they're also potentially dangerous if used improperly. So, you have to see a doctor and get an assessment before you can go to a drug store and purchase one.

But in the United States, in places like Virginia, a seriously depressed or deranged person can walk into a store and buy a semi-automatic handgun and a box of ammunition.

All you need is two forms of identification. You don't need permission from a doctor or counselor or anyone in the business of screening people to make sure they're fit to have a gun.

We can debate the relative benefits and dangers of anti-depressants and semi-automatic handguns, but if 30,000 Americans were killed each year by anti-depressants as they are by handguns it seems likely that anti-depressants would be even more strictly regulated.

So why aren't handguns?

Well, the politics. Years ago, it was illegal to advertise prescription drugs. Now, due in part to Big Pharma's clout, our airwaves and magazines are filled with images of happy people who weren't, until their physician prescribed a pill.

But Big Pharma still hasn't been able to cut out the physician altogether, because the process for screening people before they can buy an anti-depressant is just too important.

By contrast, the National Rifle Association, with more organization and money than even Big Pharma, has eliminated almost all screening measures for buying guns. In recent years, the NRA has even shielded gun dealers from liability. Not even Big Pharma and the powerful American Medical Association have managed to shield doctors from liability.

Look abroad and you have another useful point of contrast. In the United States, many people who are seriously depressed can't afford to see a doctor, let alone get a prescription. Unlike every other advanced nation, we do not provide universal health care, or ready access to mental health services.

But unlike every other advanced nation, we do allow just about anyone to buy a handgun."

- Commentary by Robert Reich, who teaches public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He was labor secretary under President Clinton.

I am not excusing the killer's actions at all, I just think it highlights one of the really big problems in the U.S. right now.

posted by julie at April 19, 2007 12:08 PM

things people have said

I'm sure you knew I would respond. I tend to have a lot to say on these sorts of topics... :)

One thing I haven't heard yet is whether the guns the shooter used were legally obtained. Even if they were, do you think that making it harder to get handguns would have stopped him from doing something really tragic? You don't think that he would have assaulted people with something else? An illegally-obtained gun or two? A knife? A homemade bomb? A knife would obviously not have resulted in as much loss of life, but a homemade bomb could have done significantly more. And there is zero control over the materials necessary to build a bomb of significant destructive force. Should we control those as well? Maybe we should have a psychological test be part of the driver's license test? I seem to recall a whack-job who ran over a bunch of students at UCSB a few years ago.

Or maybe it was this guy's high school years spent playing Counterstrike? He didn't own any videogames when he made his attack, but if you listen to the blatantly uninformed Dr Phil and Jack Thompson, you'd be ready to outlaw violent videogames.

I'm not really for gun ownership. I'll never own one, myself. But I'm very much against the expense and effort of gun control if there isn't a strong case for it. I will wager that if you outlaw guns, people who have them now would still have them. What happened when the US tried to outlaw alcohol? My gosh, more people were probably drinking during Prohibition than before it; the illegal trade became prevalent.

So no, it's not gun control that is offending me so much, it's the fact that every time something horrific occurs, all the 'Anti' special interest groups jump in front of television cameras, or on radios, and basically scream 'I told you so' and call for immediate action on their cause, which previous got little in the way of widespread support. Praying on the weakened defenses of the populace is abhorrent to me and reminds me of the accusations against a certain president, who will remain nameless, who took a certain national tragedy as catalyst and justification for his own unpopular militaristic goals.

It all comes down to really f**ked up people doing really f**ked up things. You aren't going to stop people from being deranged by removing their implements of destruction; they will find them. How many people who own guns never kill a child? How many people who play violent videogames never shoot up their school? It all comes down to controlling the crazy people, not the items that non-crazy people can use for non-destructive ends.

so said: erik at April 19, 2007 12:42 PM

I really think that this was beautifully said. I really think that in the wake of this event we should really look at our lack of health care. Obviously this wasn't a case of a silently crazy man who suddenly errupted. From all reports it seems like it was always just a matter of time. WHy was he not forced to be hospitalized and to receive serious treatment before he could put other lives at risk. I think we need better health care and I think we definately need much better mental health care. I know if I was a student in a university now if I knew a student was so obviously disturbed I would insist that the school no longer shelter them.

Ok I must walk away and off my soap box. This does seriously have me all upset.

so said: Karin at April 19, 2007 03:33 PM