On April 16, 2007, mentally disturbed Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech. He had a lifelong history of mental illness, recorded as far back as his early childhood. Two years before the massacre he was in trouble for stalking female students and was removed from a class by a professor who found him “menacing.” In December of 2005 the New River Valley Community Services Board declared that he was mentally ill and “in need of hospitalization.” Somehow it was recommended that he receive treatment as an outpatient and he was released but was court-ordered to follow all medical recommendations and continue to seek outpatient treatment. Though the New River Valley Community Services Board was required by the court to monitor him and Cho was ordered to continue treatment, neither party was compliant. Cho never received the court-ordered treatment needed, the board never followed up, and he was never summoned back to court.
Neither the court, the university nor community services officials followed up on the judge's order, according to dozens of interviews. Cho never got the treatment, according to authorities who have seen his medical files. And although state law says the community services board should have made sure Cho got help, a board official said that was “news to us.”
Cho, they said, slipped through a porous mental health system that suffers from muddled, seldom-enforced laws and inconsistent practices. Special justices who oversee hearings such as the one for Cho said they know that some people they have ordered into treatment have not gotten it. They find out when the person “does something crazy again,” in the words of one justice—when they are brought back into court because they are considered in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.
“The system doesn't work well,” said Tom Diggs, executive director of the Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, which has been studying the state mental health system and will report to the General Assembly next year.
The report commissioned to examine Cho's noncompliance revealed that Virginia's checks and balances for mental health care were “inadequate.”
No proposed or existing firearms law would have prevented Cho from purchasing a firearm because he was never adjudicated mentally unfit—a clearly deserved decision. Anti-2A lobbyists are spending the day exploiting the tragedy as a call for more restrictions when their time would be better spent calling for increased mental care and oversight, which could have prevented this tragedy.
My book, Hands Off My Gun: Defeating The Plot To Disarm America is available here.