This morning, the smoke has settled. The bodies of thirty-two innocent victims have been hauled out of the classrooms and dormitories of Virginia Tech University. Twenty-six more populate the hospital wards around Blacksburg. It was the handiwork of one man, Cho Seung-Hei, his two handguns, and at least five dozen rounds of ammunition.
Gallons and gallons of dried, sticky blood still cover the floors, a grisly reminder of the single most violent shooting in American history. It beat stiff competition to take that dubious honor--- It outpaced the Luby’s shooting in Kileen, Texas which sent twenty-three people to their graves. It outpaced Charles Whitman, whose shooting rampage on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin killed fifteen. Colin Ferguson’s rampage that killed six on the New York City subway looks downright amateur in comparison.
And one thing I kept seeing on every non-media/ “new media” outlet I turned to yesterday, including the comments section on this very site, was “people will still find a way to kill one another”.
Let’s assume for the moment that I can create the perfect world. I’ve come up with a means of identifying and tracking down every gun that is illegally held by an outlaw, and I can be certain that Americans are perfectly safe from firearm violence. We get rid of every gun in this country that is held in private hands.
I’m certain that there will be a rise in murders committed with knives. I’ll grant you that. In 2005, the last year that statistics were available, there were 1,914 murders committed with knives. Of course, there were 10,100 committed with guns, so we could double the murders committed with knives and come out way ahead. And there’s the added bonus of eliminating “bystander deaths”, for while it would be wonderful if bullets that miss their targets magically fell out of the sky afterward, the world simply does not work that way.
Another thing that’s unrealistic is the idea of stuffing the Gun Genie back into the bottle. I would love for it to be possible, but it’s not.
This tragedy unfolded, perhaps not coincidentally, in a state that rivals Texas in the weak gun laws department. To purchase a handgun in Virginia, you need to survive to age eighteen (Not even that if it’s a rifle or shotgun, which you can purchase at age 12). If you purchase the handgun from a licensed dealer, you have to pass a background check, although secondary market purchases (Gun show, private seller) do not require even that. There is no waiting period. There is no ballistic fingerprinting. Police are allowed to keep a record of the serial number for only one year after the purchase. There are no laws regarding Saturday Night Specials, junk handguns that are responsible for many accidental deaths. And the state government has passed a law barring municipal governments from banning handguns inside city government buildings. The state requires no handgun training, and state law dictates that the municipal governments may pass handgun laws of their own.
Ultimately, could any of those things have prevented yesterday’s tragedy? Probably not. No information on the shooter has come out indicating that he would have failed a background check. He was dead by the time a forensic investigator could have checked ballistics on any of the victims. MSNBC is reporting that one of the guns was purchased last Friday, so a waiting period might have helped some--- Apparently, he held onto the weapon just long enough to file the serial number off of it.
But it’s a brilliant time to talk about ways to bring an end to the sickness that grips America today.
If the news out of Iraq today was that thirty-two American soldiers had been killed in the relative safety of the Green Zone in the span of two hours, everyone in this nation would be talking about ways to end it, whether it’s the left saying “It’s not working. Time to end it” or the right saying “We need to stay in Iraq until the Islamofascists are dead”. Regardless of what they may feel is the right course to take, everyone would be shouting “Do something!”
Instead, it was thirty-two American kids murdered in the relative safety of an American university. And those who care more about their right to guns than they care about an American kid’s right to breathe want to continue on with business as usual--- Only with flags at half mast so they can assuage their guilt.
To hell with that. The question is not “Should this lead to a discussion about gun laws?”. The question is “Why did it take this to get us talking about common sense gun legislation?”
What I want is not a ban on all weapons. That whole “can’t stuff Gun Genie back into the bottle” thing. But the following things are really not too much to ask:
• Ballistic fingerprinting. Don’t want your gun matched up to a shooting? Don’t shoot anyone. It’s certainly true that a knowledgeable gunsmith can beat ballistics tests by changing out the barrel, but really, how many people know how to do that?
• Registration. If I cannot buy a car without a VIN number, and I cannot drive it without a license tag that identifies me on the back of it, there is no reason that the serial number of a gun cannot be recorded.
• Waiting period. A cooling down period is really not too much to ask. If you want a gun today for some reason other than immediately killing someone, you’ll still want it next Tuesday.
• Firearm training. If you’re going to shoot, please do so safely. Again, it’s not much to ask. If you need to kill a guy in the front yard, all I ask is that you don’t blow the face off of a three-year-old in the house across the street.
• 50 caliber. There is absolutely no reason this weapon should be in private hands.
• Safety standards. “Saturday Night Specials” and the body count associated with their misfiring could be done away with if even the most basic of safety standards are met.
• End gun manufacturer immunity. If my car blows up because of a known manufacturing defect, Ford owes me damages. If a faulty firing pin leads to a tragic accident in any of the states that have given gun makers immunity, nothing happens.
• Force weapons manufacturers to improve the firing pin design on semiautomatic weapons so that they cannot be modified to fully automatic weapons.
I’m sure I’ll think of more as the days go by.
None of these things infringe on your misreading of the Second Amendment. None of them restrict your access to firearms, other than insisting you know what you’re doing with them to have access.
Preliminary reports are that the Virginia Tech shooter purchased his handguns completely legally, taking advantage of the lax gun laws of Virginia. He broke no laws before walking onto campus and starting a bloodbath.