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     Volume 6 Issue 16| April 27, 2007 |

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Questioning US Gun Laws

Hana Shams Ahmed

On April 16 a lone gunman fired indiscriminately and killed 33 students of Virginia Tech University and wounded at least 21 others. The gunman, 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui, who was a resident student of Korean descent from that university after satisfied with the massacre shot himself in the head. It was a very premeditated crime as investigators discovered a note in his dorm, which runs for several pages. According to newspaper reports, on the morning of the 16th, Cho killed two people in his dorm room and then left the note in his own room before going out to a classroom building on the other side of the campus and went on from one classroom to another opening fire. Witnesses said that Cho was going about with a 'stone-faced look' on his face. The incident has been cited as the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. But it was certainly not the first.

On Aug. 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, a student of University of Texas in Austin climbed up to the observation deck of the school's landmark tower, pointed a rifle and shot at the ground below for 96 minutes. Sixteen people were killed and 31 were wounded in the incident. In December 1997 a teenager in a middle school pulled out a gun from his backpack and fired 10 to 12 shots at a group of 35 or 40 students who were holding an informal prayer service. The Jonesboro school massacre in March 1998 took the life of five students in Craighead County, Arkansas. Four students and a teacher were killed and nine other students and a teacher were wounded by two armed middle school boys: a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old! The two boys had reportedly both dressed in army-style camouflaged clothes, stole a van, loaded it with camping supplies, food, and weapons (two semi-automatic rifles, one bolt-action rifle and four handguns) which had been stolen from one of their grandfather's house. One of the boys had set off the fire alarm while the other took the weapons to the woods near the school. One of them had then run back to the woods where the weapons were. When children and teachers came out of the school, the two boys opened fire. The incidents were similar to the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999 where two teenage students carried out a shooting rampage, killing 12 students and a teacher, as well as wounding 24 others, before committing suicide.

The perpetrators in all of these cases had some history of psychological disorder or troubled childhood. Cho, an English major, reportedly used to come to class with a hat and sunglasses on and a co-director of his creative writing program reported that the plays he wrote were very 'disturbing'. But it's not only the past history of these killers that is so frightening as much as the federal gun control laws that exists in the country. What can be said about a country where if you open a bank account you get a gun as a promotional gift? In the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, declares that “a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free State”, and prohibits Congress from infringement of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

A Time report follows how Cho followed all the right rules and regulations to obtain the two semi-automatic pistols he used in his rampage. According to the report he underwent a federal instant check at both sides of the stores where he bought the guns. Since he had no past criminal records, his purchase was approved immediately. Some states require a permit or safety certificate to buy a handgun, and Virginia is not one of them. A person has to be over 21 to purchase a handgun and over 18 to buy a shotgun or rifle. Current federal law requires criminal background checks only for guns sold by licensed firearm dealers which means that two of every five guns acquired in the US change hands without a background check. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, there were 28,663 firearm deaths in the US in 2000.

We can blame the shooters, the terrorists, the security or the apparent lack of it on campus or even the dysfunctional families of the killers for these incidents. But at the end of the day it boils down to the fact that the US needs to take a long look at its laws regard control of firearms. America might be the land of the free but absolute freedom can only corrupt, especially those vulnerable ones like Cho, and innocent people like the 33 dead students are the ones who suffer. And surely the US does not want to live with that legacy.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007