Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Killer friendly handguns

When university campus goes
bang, bang, bang

From The Statesman

Virginia Tech like most university campuses is a digital beehive. Through blogs, instant messaging, video cell phones, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, no one should have been left behind but the whole academic community was caught unaware.
Jamal Albarghouti, a graduate student, used his video cellphone to record the panic, when the campus popped up with gunfire. A week before the horrific shooting, the university had received bomb threats and Albarghouti suspected that something untoward might happen. But the proverbial digital brushfire did spread through the campus.

Now we know why last Monday a lone gunman, a 23-year-old student Cho Seung-Hui turned himself into a brutal killing machine on a sprawling peaceful campus with 36,000 students, faculty members and staff. Campus authorities including some of his professors knew that the young man was mentally off the track and suspected suicidal tendencies. “Schools should be places of sanctuary and safety and learning,” President George Bush said trying to offer condolences after the gunman had killed 29 students, three professors (one of them, Dr GV Loganathan, originally a native of India), and finally putting a bullet through his own head that made him unrecognisable. “When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community,” Bush continued. But he refused to yield on the need to enact stricter national gun control laws that will screen out mentally disturbed people from buying handguns and assault weapons.

There are 65 million hand guns in the United States but the gun lobby is strong and the market so huge that during the election year no candidate dare suggest stricter gun laws. Lucinda Roy, a co-director of the creative writing program at Virginia Tech, and the author of the novel “The Hotel Alleluia” wrote in the New York Times that “none of us is safe as long as there are angry young men who yearn to blast a hole in the world.” She is one of the instructors who had observed dangerous tendencies in Cho’s writing and sounded an alarm. But if you take away guns, deranged young men (and women) will have to find some more ingenious methods of killing people.

Cho who is being described as a sociopath, could have strapped a bomb though that would have been much more difficult than concealing a couple of handguns in his pockets. Guns are so user friendly that you don’t have to be a marksman to kill someone. Just point and shoot. A child can do it - and some do it, killing their brothers, sisters, and even parents.

Details of the campus massacre and how it happened are before us now. Why did not the university shut itself when the first shot was fired and two persons got killed 7:15 in the morning? How stupid that the campus security thought that the first shooting was a kind of domestic dispute. Cho went to kill his ex-girl friend, they surmised, but now we know that he had no girl friend. In his video declaration he berated the debauchery of the rich, not lost or spurned love, as one of the reasons of is murderous action.

Charles W. Steger, Virginia Tech’s president, expressed his “horror and disbelief and sorrow” but was quick to point out that the gunman at the classroom building was “an Asian male who was a resident of the university.” Pointing out the gunman’s ethnicity was thought to be necessary but he did not explain why the university failed to take more aggressive approach to safeguard the community from someone whose behavior was clinically diagnosed as a mentally disturbed. Virginia Tech rampage has been called the deadliest campus shooting in American history.

Eight years ago two unhinged high school students at Columbine High in Colorado killed 13 students and themselves. The nation was shocked. People mourned and prayed. Then they indulged in collective psychoanalysis and finally came to the same old conclusion, Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.

The gunman was brutal, said students who observed him and escaped his bullets. Zach Petkewicz, a student, told CNN, “ Me and two others got up, threw a couple of tables in front of it and had to physically hold it there while there were gunshots going on.” The killer was so determined and single-minded that he “came to our door and tried the handle. He couldn’t get it in because we were pushing up against it. He tried to force his way in and got the door to open up about six inches and then we just lunged at it and closed it back up. That’s when he backed up and shot twice into the middle of the door, thinking we were up against it trying to get him out.” So much pent up rage and hatred could not have been the effect of one small incident.

Did the university respond adequately?

There was a gap of two hours between two shootings. After the first shooting the gunman retuned to his dorm and mailed his video declaration to NBC. Later he walked through the engineering building and went on shooting in the hall and classrooms where he killed most of his victims.

Although students are not allowed to have guns on the campus, the state of Virginia has one the most liberal gun laws in the country. No license or training is required to have a gun and once a background check is done, law enforcement must issue what is called concealed carry permit.

If Cho were an Arab-Muslim, the background check would have been thorough. But who would have suspected a Korean, Japanese or Chinese student to go on a shooting spree?
(ND Batra is the author of Digital Freedom forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield)

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