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Forget implementing new gun control laws. We cannot even enforce the ones currently in existence. Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech student who massacred thirty-two students before taking his own life last Monday, should never have been able to purchase a gun. Current law states that anyone a court holds to be “mentally incompetent” is prohibited from buying a gun. In 2005, a Virginia court ruled that Cho was “an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness,” but because of bureaucratic inefficiency, states are slow to computerize their records and send them to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Congress is belatedly working to fix these inexcusable shortcomings by focusing on a bill garnering wide bipartisan support that would supply states with money to update their background check systems and require them to include any mental illness-related court rulings in their databases. However, Congress is unwilling to go further than correcting the flaws in past legislation. Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), whose son was injured and husband was killed in 1993 after being shot while riding a train, lamented, “We’re not going to do anything more on guns—it’s just not going to happen. This is a pro-gun Congress.” Moreover, the National Rifle Association released a statement urging, “This is not the time for political discussions, public policy debates or to advance a political agenda.”

Why not? In times of tragedy, we should question our current policies in order to ensure that such horrible events never occur again. The status quo is not good enough. Obviously, any lawmaker who tries to exploit the Virginia Tech massacre to promote a political agenda is reprehensible, but by doing nothing to promote stricter gun control, lawmakers are insulting the victims and failing to take measures to protect the country from another attack.

How many others would have been killed, for instance, if Cho had decided to purchase an assault weapon? In 1994, Congress passed a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons (not including semi-automatic hunting rifles), but President Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress let the ban expire in 2004. No one is arguing for a complete ban on the sale of guns, but is it really necessary to have the capability to fire dozens of rounds without reloading? If your house is being robbed, you are in big trouble if you need dozens of shots to scare away or hit the intruder. For the same reason, Congress should also ban high-capacity ammunition clips.

Congress should also require background checks for the sale of firearms at gun shows. If current laws had been properly implemented and Cho had been prohibited from buying a gun due to the court ruling concerning his mental illness, he could have attended a gun show and bought one there. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires firearms dealers to obtain a federal license, and when these federally licensed dealers want to sell a gun, they are required to check the FBI’s NICS. However, many vendors at gun shows are people selling their personal collections rather than licensed arms dealers, so thousands of guns are sold each year to people who have not had background checks.

Our elected representatives have a duty to do everything in their power to prevent another Virginia Tech-style massacre from occurring again. Granted, even with a complete ban on the sale of firearms (which I am not advocating), there is always a possibility that a similar tragic event could occur again. But this does not mean that Congress should acquiesce to the status quo; on the contrary, it should be doing everything in its power to make sure that guns are practically impossible to obtain by people who do not pass federal background checks. My friend Daniel O’Neil was brutally murdered at Virginia Tech, and it makes me sick to see Congress doing nothing to prevent other innocent, young people from being unnecessarily slain in the future.


Pam said...


Additionally, I was more than slightly disturbed a few years when I saw how easy it was to get a FOID card, or firearm owner identification card, as well -- you take the photograph at home and mail it in, alongside $5 and an application you downloaded from the website. That's it. They supposedly review the applications, but it feels like there should be more involved. Getting a drivers' license is more difficult.

leaveonlyfootprints said...

also, you have to pass a test to get a driver's license.