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I’ve devoted so much “ink” to this topic in countless columns over the years, I can recite the deadly data by heart. Why do Americans continue to tolerate state and federal loosening of gun control laws as the numbers of mass shootings mount? When is the horror, loss and resulting anger going to turn into greater citizen pressure for tighter restraints on lethal weapons?
I remember watching the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine high school massacre in amazement: no national call for limiting handgun ownership or banning outright ownership of automatic weapons. Had America gone brain dead?
The only fact separating this week’s Virginia Tech massacre from the other countless workplace, college, school and public area shootings is its scale. As long as weapons are widely available, particularly automatic weapons, these massacres will continue unabated.
Scripps Howard News Service reporter Lisa Hoffman, reported this stunning fact: “The massacre at Virginia Tech University Monday ranks as the worst such mass college killing in American history. But it is not the deadliest rampage at a U.S. school.” That dubious title belongs to the dynamiting of the Bath Consolidated School in Bath Township, Mich. nearly 80 years ago. Perpetrator Andrew Kehoe killed himself and 44 others, most of the victims school children. But that predated modern gun control and the mass murders Kehoe committed were by torching buildings and detonating explosives, not by guns.
Only last fall, gunman Charles Carl Roberts in Nickel Mines, Pa., invaded a rural Amish school, segregated the children by gender, binding the girls’ feet with wire and plastic ties, then shooting them execution-style. Again, the nation did nothing.
One can only hope that perhaps we’ve reached a turning point. As last fall’s elections show, America seems to be turning against the “Gods, Guns & Gays” crowd. Maybe the next step is that voters will warm once again to the idea of limiting access to deadly weapons.
It is pointless to hope for an outright ban on gun ownership. At last count, the Brady Campaign (named after former President Reagan’s press spokesman James Brady) quotes a Police Foundation report showing Americans own some 192 million firearms, 65 million of which are handguns. A University of Chicago survey quoted on the Brady campaign’s Web site said in the late 1990s, almost 40 percent of American households possessed a firearm.
But any politician, Democrat or Republican, who votes against gun control and supports the National Rifle Association’s relentless lobbying effort against any restraint on gun ownership, is acting hypocritically in voicing sympathy for the relatives of people who lose their lives to gun violence. Those same politicians could have acted to save those lives but chose not to.
USNews.com reported this week, “It has been more than a decade of progress for the National Rifle Association and other proponents of looser gun regulations, who saw their opposition wither in the face of sweeping Democratic losses in 1994 and the loss of the White House in 2000. But when interviewed last year about the decline of the issue’s prominence, advocates on both sides suggested that an especially violent event — like the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech — could cause a reversal of fortunes.”
I would like to re-quote the Utah parents of a son lost to gun violence, who wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake City Tribune from which I quoted last year. Ron and Norma Molen wrote, “The NRA is a secular, fundamentalist special interest so focused on gun rights that it dismisses the 30,000 deaths each year as the price of freedom, and this includes the deaths of 14 children every day …”
Let us hope the legacy of the Virginia Tech massacre is American voters won’t tolerate the NRA or the politicians it controls any longer.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)