There's no denying the horror of last week's shootings at Northern Illinois University. I can only imagine the distress of the victims' families and the witnesses and the university community as a whole. Until recently, I'd always thought of colleges and universities as tranquil places devoted to learning and fun.
While I have no personal or family involvement in this event and know no one directly affected, I have become concerned about two related matters: gun control and mental health care. I've noticed that both sides of the gun control debate have had their say. One group advocates that students be permitted to carry weapons. The other--sparked by students' parents--is pushing for stronger gun control laws.
Personally, I hate guns. I suppose that if hunters must have them and can use them responsibly, that's bearable, but why college students on campus? The idea of immature students settling their disputes with guns terrifies me. That has nothing to do with the right to hunt non-human game. I can't see how an armed lecture audience would have stopped the NIU shooter. A general shoot-out might have claimed even more innocent victims.
The other issue that grabbed my attention was mental health care. It seems that the shooter lived in a mental health facility for a year. His treatment must have been successful, since he was able to become a successful, respected graduate of NIU. I've always believed that at least some of the mentally ill can be rehabilitated. On the other hand, who can predict when or if someone will snap? How can anyone force an adult to take needed medication?
I hope that this horrible shooting incident does not bring out the worst in people. I hope it leads to compassion and understanding and tolerance, not to arming students and locking up the mentallyy ill permanently in the "snake pits" of old. There are many things beyond human understanding and "easy" remedies, and the only hope we can have when such things happen depends upon common sense.
Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne