While I remain unconvinced that the Virginia Tech massacre requires any bold changes in law or policy, there is an irony in the way that Seung-Hui Cho was treated by the school and local authorities. As National Review and others have pointed out, had the vitriol and insanity that he spewed been directed at a protected minority group, the university would have come down at him like a ton of bricks. But act in ways that make teachers and students afraid to be in the same room with you is to simply let your voice be heard. Who are we to judge?
One of the singular sins of my generation is to have lost their capacity for judging anything other than "intolerance" - a concept that, for us, has taken on a specialized meaning applying to a set of disfavored attitudes about race and sex. We had good reason to be concerned about these things, but we have been fighting the last war since approximately 1969. Many of the people who dealt with Cho understood that his conduct had passed a point at which he ought no longer be the master of his treatment, but our disinclination to pass judgment prevailed.
(Interestingly, it appears that it was only when Cho's conduct arguably became an offense against gender - sexual harassment - that there was any concerted effort to address the threat that he posed.)
For me, the difficulty of all this is underscored by some research done by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Professor Harcourt has apparently demonstrated that there is a strong and inverse correlation between the homicide rate and rate of combined institutionalization (i.e., prison and mental institutions). He shows that, while our prison population has risen, the numbers in mental hospitals has decreased such that we institutionalized more people in the 1940s and 1950s than we do today.
Professor Harcourt is quick to point out that this does not mean that we ought to embark on a new project of warehousing people and I agree. It is hard to get at the Chos without sweeping up less dangerous folks. But the determined refusal to see a problem like Cho's for what it is strikes me as another malignancy of the Sixties.