EDITORIAL: Something to consider

Like the rest of America, our hearts go out to the Virginia Tech students, faculty, staff, their families and the whole community.

During such times of mourning many people look for life lessons so that another tragedy like this might be prevented.

The story behind these horrible shootings is not just the shooters and their motives. Our front-page article points to the easy availability of high-powered handguns. The shooters need weapons to carry out their plans. The more access to weapons, the more society puts itself at risk.

Thus, the importance of “common sense” gun laws should not be underestimated. Yet, there are other issues as well that are worth considering.

The student gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, had severe mental health issues, which apparently led to strange and dangerous behavior that was reported by professors and students. He was hospitalized. He was counseled. He had prescription medication. So what happened? Did he fall through the cracks?

Chances are, yes. While no one can predict a violent eruption by someone who suffers from a severe mental disorder, if there is no follow-up with patients, professionals can’t monitor their progress or decline. (It should be noted that at least 90 percent of seriously ill people never commit any violent acts, although many may attempt suicide.)

Virginia Tech, like all public universities, has suffered severe budget cuts. Even private universities’ health services are often inadequate. The Wall Street Journal, no friend of public health, reports, “Schools are being forced to lay off doctors and pare back everything from weekend hours to around-the-clock advice lines staffed by nurses. Many schools have shuttered their infirmaries.”

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, mental health experts in California urged the building of a “system” that can really ensure suffering students get the help they need before they hurt themselves or others. But the problem, they concluded, is the “shortage of funding.”

There are many other factors to consider, but if we want to prevent another such massacre then a fully funded health care system, including mental health care, is an essential step.