Staff Editorial: Common-sense gun control

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April 27, 2007

12:36 AM

Eleven days after the deadliest shooting in American history, it is time to ask ourselves a long overdue question: Why are gun laws in this country, and the state of Virginia in particular, so relaxed — so much so that a student with a history of mental illness can potentially acquire one handgun per month? While the right to bear arms is sacrosanct in this country, and the majority of efforts to curb gun violence have achieved few lasting results, we are once again reminded that it is a debate that needs to take place.

p. Amidst all the questions that have been raised after the Virginia Tech massacre, the most puzzling and chilling of all concerns Cho Seung-Hui’s history of mental illness. Why, with red flags being raised left and right, was a young man who was labeled as presenting “an imminent danger to himself or others as a result of mental illness” by a Virginia judge in December 2005 still allowed to legally purchase two handguns in the two-month span before he took the lives of 32 people? The answer, at least in a legal sense, is a disconnect between federal and Virginia law — a loophole that Cho was able to exploit. While the federal government would have banned Cho from purchasing the two handguns given his documented mental health history, Virginia only enforces such limitations if a person is involuntarily committed to a mental institute. Cho was spared such a sentence, and his illness did not show up on background checks conducted by gun dealers.

p. Such discrepancies in federal and state law must be removed. It seems only logical that anyone deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others by a judge should not be allowed to purchase a weapon. While some will still acquire guns and ammunition illegally, tougher background checks and longer waiting periods would represent a critical first step in preventing future tragedies. Whatever one’s stance is on gun control laws in America, such common-sense initiatives will help to save lives without posing a threat to the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

p. While it should be noted that Virginia is one of only 22 states that places mental-status restrictions on gun purchases, improvements to the state’s laws are both necessary and attainable without violating any law-abiding citizen’s right to bear arms. For example, Virginia law currently holds that any person 21 years or older can purchase one handgun a month, a statute of which Cho took advantage. The time has come for this law to be re-examined, as the necessity of purchasing 12 handguns a year for self-defense or hunting purposes is almost nonexistent.

p. Eight years removed from the shootings at Columbine High School, the debate on gun control and violence in America appears to have come full circle. The presence of advanced weaponry — guns whose primary purpose is to kill as rapidly and as lethally as possible — is extremely troubling. After all, does anyone really need a machine gun or automatic pistol to hunt or protect themselves? Changing the accessibility of such weapons, as well as implementing common-sense safety features like child locks and investing in other safety technology, would represent more important steps in protecting the people of this country.

p. The turbulence of the last 11 days has been far-reaching and profoundly felt, and the thought of that day will forever linger in the minds of Tech students, families and all who have been touched by this tragedy. In terms of guns and violence, we understand that this is a contentious and controversial issue. Yet there are simple compromises that can and must be reached in the coming years by state and federal legislators. We never wanted another Columbine, and now, we must make sure that we never see another Virginia Tech.

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