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How Virginia tech affects gun control policy.

On April 17th a nightmarish scenario played out in the buildings of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. It stretched over two hours, began on one end of the sprawling campus and ended in a horrific nine minute catalyst where the shooter fired 170 shots, eventually killing 32 people, before ending his own life as police rushed the building. Student Cho Seung-Hui was later identified as the killer.

The massacre at Virginia Tech doesn't appear to be an aberration however, since many high-profile shootings have been occurring across the country.

In October gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania armed with three weapons; a shotgun, rifle and semiautomatic pistol. Before police could storm the schoolhouse, he shot and killed five young girls execution style.

Revenge appears to be an obvious link between the Amish school shootings and the Virginia Tech massacre; Roberts left behind notes and told his wife via cell phone that he was "acting out to achieve revenge for something that happened twenty years ago". Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui left behind video, pictures, and notes that touted revenge against affluent students of the campus.

On April 3rd, Arthur Mann shot and killed his ex-girlfriend at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Mann had an extensive criminal rap, including prior convictions of murder and robbery, probation violations, and was a registered sex offender in the state of Florida. Mann's ability to acquire firearms to pursue revenge on his ex-girlfriend is a dangerous trend; only to be exemplified two weeks later in the Virginia Tech shootings, where killer Cho was able to attain guns regardless of his prior mental health history.

While individual killing sprees have individual motives, the general theme of dangerous people acquiring weapons with ease is becoming more and more prevalent in America.

The Virginia Tech tragedy has finally spurred policy action. Gun control groups are crying foul over Cho's apparent ease in purchasing his weapons, even when he had been ordered by a court to seek outpatient counseling and was judged mentally ill.

Since the massacre at Virginia Tech, Governor Kaine has closed the loophole that allowed Cho to buy weapons despite his mental history. The new state law in Virginia requires that anyone ordered by a court to seek mental health treatment is to be added to the list of peoples barred from purchasing guns. If this law had been in place earlier, the dangerous and unstable Cho would have been refused.

Pro-gun activists and lobbyists are on guard. "The only no-compromise gun lobby group in Washington" according to Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Gun Owners of America, said Cho could have been stopped if Virginia state law did not prevent students and faculty from carry firearms on campus. "When will we learn that being defenseless is a bad defense?" asked the executive director, Larry Pratt, according to The Virginia-Pilot newspaper.

The mammoth gun rights union, the National Rifle Association, the nations oldest and largest, has kept mainly quiet on the issue, commenting on the fact that people with mental illness should not own firearms.

Furthermore, most pro-gun activists believe guns are a tool, not the cause of violence, and that we should stop blaming influencers (i.e. video games) and hold individuals accountable for their actions. These critics question whether access to weapons like guns make people more deadly, or is gun violence a product of our violent culture?

The Clinton Administration responded to soaring gun-involved homicides rates in the late '80s and early '90s by tightening gun control laws. By 1999, gun-involved homicides dropped to a new low, according to the Department of Justice (Bureau of Justice Statistics).

However, critics of the Bush Administration claim that gun crime has been increasing back to mid '80s levels. They cite as contributing factors that during President Bush's tenure, an assault weapons ban had been allowed to expire, plus a bill that has passed preventing gun makers from being liable for deaths caused by their weapons.

While the FBI is warning on a spike of gun violence in large cities, Miami Police Chief John Timoney tells The Economist magazine that the spike is attributable to the ending of the assault weapons ban, in particular.

Gun control has been thrust into political debate once again. Americans are looking hard at all the issues surrounding these tragic events; mental health, prior criminal history, revenge killings, and school safety. But Americans are especially focusing on the weapon of choice in these killings, guns. The debate between gun control and gun rights has been blown wide open with the recent string of high-profile murders.

The actors of these heinous gun crimes all had one thing in common; they were all dangerous individuals who were able to acquire with little difficulty the weapons with which to pursue their murderous goals.

Michael Schild is a contributing writer for TIC focusing on world affairs. He is a recent graduate of University at Albany and holds a Bachelor's degree in History.
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Author:Schild, Michael
Publication:The Informed Constituent (Albany, NY)
Date:May 1, 2007
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