The problem is made far worse by the general atmosphere of American society, which in recent decades, in deference to the First Amendment, has countenanced more and more depictions of violent behavior -- most notably on television.
Americans today would certainly not enjoy living in a severely structured society like (say) 19th-century Japan, where everyone knew his place and unconventional behavior was severely condemned. But the sort of "anything goes" mood dominant in America today carries with it, inevitably, the risk that occasionally unstable individuals will choose to go much too far.
So the unpalatable truth is that, as a practical matter, there is little we can do to prevent tragedies like Virginia Tech. By all means improve the observation, reporting and treatment of individuals who display dangerous psychological symptoms. And condemn and prevent (to the extent that the courts will permit it) the use of television and other means of communication to celebrate violence. But as long as we, as a nation, place the rights of the individual in the forefront of our concern, and relegate to a lesser status the protection of society, we will have to pay, from time to time, the price for our preference.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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