Tuesday, April 17, 2007

After Terror in Blacksburg, It’s Time to Discuss Guns

By Christopher Truscott
We’re horrified by the senseless tragedy carried out Monday at Virginia Tech and pray for the many thousands of people it affected.

Thirty-two lives were cut short by a deranged gunman hell-bent on killing as many people as possible before taking his own life. While we may never know the full truth about what happened the other morning in Blacksburg, we can be certain that unless we act gun-related violence will continue to be a part of our daily lives.

While the domestic terror attack at Virginia Tech is noteworthy and historic for its scale, the murders there weren’t the only fatal shootings across America this week.

In 2002, 30,242 people in the U.S. were killed by a firearm. That comes out to an average of 83 lives ended prematurely each day – more than three each hour. In the Commonwealth of Virginia alone nearly 800 people were killed by guns in 2003.

In the wake of the massacre in southwest Virginia it’s time to revisit the gun-control debate in this country. Could the disaster in Blacksburg have been stopped? We don’t really know. But we do know that in the time it takes to watch a TV sitcom someone, somewhere in America will be killed by a gun.

America leads the developed world in gun-related violence. Our firearms death rate is even higher than that of places like Estonia, Brazil and Mexico. This is unacceptable and in a country that prides itself for dedication to the principle of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” it’s appalling.

Fear of electoral repercussions and blind support for special interest groups should not stand in the way of Congress engaging in a substantive debate about violence in this country. The issue is too serious. Human life is too precious. Solutions have been put on hold for too long. The time for action is now.

It’s true that guns are a part of American culture, so it’s important to know that gun control doesn’t mean “no guns.” Hunting wild game for sport or owning a gun for protection is fine, but stockpiling weapons and acquiring guns (and accessories) designed to kill humans with gruesome efficiency is not.

We need comprehensive federal gun laws. Period. A patchwork, state-by-state system for gun control is inadequate. Background checks and waiting periods for firearms and ammunition purchases should be mandatory everywhere and there should be a limit to the number of weapons a person can acquire in the future. There must also be a federal database of gun and ammunition sales. That’s not an Orwellian concept. It’s common sense.

We can’t battle back against the forces of violence without attacking those who arm them. To that end we need to aggressively pursue the gun peddlers and street gangs that deal in illicit weapons. And we need an assault weapons ban that means something. The legislation allowed to expire in 2004 was loophole-laden. New laws must be iron-clad. This is a national security issue and should be treated as such.

We can never fully stamp out violence, but we can make it easier to preserve life than it is to destroy it.

People aren’t judged by tragedy. It’s their response to it that matters. If we use the catastrophe at Virginia Tech as a call to action that means something. If we fail to act and allow politics as usual to carry the day, that also means something.

While the people murdered Monday didn’t have a choice as to their fate, we do.

Christopher Truscott can be reached at chris.truscott@gmail.com. As a college student he made countless trips to Blacksburg to visit a childhood who attended Virginia Tech.

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