Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Lesson from the Tragedy at Virginia Tech

Government-issued photo ID. (X). Ninety-day residency in desired state of purchase. (X). Basic criminal background check. (X).

And just like that, 32 innocent lives are lost.

Armed with two handguns that were legally and easily purchased from licensed vendors, 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui stormed his alma mater in Blacksburg, Virginia and brutally attacked students and professors in the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. Today and for countless days to come we must mourn the deaths of those who periled at the hands of such a merciless killer. Yet we must also live with the pungent scent of shame that continues to linger over our nation’s outrageous “right to bear arms.”

Yesterday’s horrific and tragic massacre at Virginia Tech is yet another agonizing reminder that Second Amendment should have no place in our twenty-first century society.

When the Framers embarked on their noble quest to endow the American people with a set of inalienable rights, they had no intention of guaranteeing to civilians the unrestricted or even consciously regulated right to own handguns, rifles, or semiautomatic weapons (all of which have been used with sickening frequency to attack innocents around the country in recent years).

At the time the Constitution was written, the right to bear arms was a purely practical consideration to ensure the nascent government would have a ready and able militia if the mighty Brits ever tried to reclaim their rogue colonies. The wording of the NRA’s favorite sentence of all time is crystal clear: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Virtually no part of the Constitution explicitly indicates or even subtly implies that any other reason for bearing arms is a sound interpretation of the Second Amendment. Not self-defense. Not game hunting for leisure. Not to “even the playing field” with “bad guys” who “don’t play by the rules.” There is absolutely no reason that anyone outside of the military or law enforcement – those modern day militia-men who keep the free State secure – should be able to own a firearm.

In the aftermath of such a devastating utilization of legally-obtained and registered guns (purchased by a man who seemed “cordial” and “clean-cut” to the responsible store clerk), it is mind-numbing to listen to otherwise-rational Americans cite our nation’s so-called anger problems as the force behind gun violence. Even some parents of Columbine shooting victims are blaming school shootings on an angry American society that tolerates violence.

We do not need to wake Sigmund Freud from his grave to analyze the psychological complexities of Americans and determine why so many people resort to gun violence. People resort to gun violence because they have access to guns.

There is no doubt that the number of American deaths by firearms would be greatly reduced if we outlawed the legal sale of guns in our country. If people do not have sophisticated, efficient, mechanical means to murder, they resort to more primitive and ineffective methods when callously tempted to harm others. And such methods are simply not as successful as guns at bringing innocent victims to death. Most of the developed, democratized world acknowledges the crucial and obvious link between guns and violence, and they enjoy drastically lower homicide rates (specifically, gun deaths) per year because of their much stricter policies on firearms.

Of course, we can never totally prevent renegade individuals from breaking gun control laws and obtaining firearms illegally. Not even the United Kingdom (which outlaws guns completely) was able to prevent a total of 46 gun-homicides last year, compared to America’s 10,105 firearm murders in 2005.

But if we can pass legislation that outlaws the sale of guns and establishes some systematic plan to recall those already in American homes, we can show true respect to the victims at Virginia Tech by reducing the risk of history repeating itself, again. The sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, students, and teachers who were savagely slaughtered by legally-obtained firearms this week should serve as somber reminders that America’s permissive stance on guns is poisonous. Only serious reevaluation of the Second Amendment and new steps to outlaw guns in our country are appropriate cures for America’s perverted gun culture (of which I guarantee the Framers would not approve).

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