Could Greater Gun Rights Have Limited Virginia Shooting?

July 7, 2008 - 8:06 PM

(CNSNews.com) - As students and faculty at Virginia Tech continue to grapple with the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, some are wondering whether broader gun rights could have helped protect the campus.

Cho Seung-hui, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student, killed 32 people and himself in a shooting spree Monday on the Blacksburg, Va., campus. Cho used two legally purchased handguns to carry out the attack, according to authorities.

In spite of Virginia's simple process for obtaining a permit to carry a concealed firearm and the commonwealth's tolerance for open-carry of firearms, Virginia Tech forbids "unauthorized possession, storage or control of firearms and weapons on university property."

The policy was criticized in the wake of an earlier shooting incident on the campus -- on Aug. 21, 2006, the first day of class. William Morva, an inmate who had escaped from a local hospital, made his way to the campus, where he killed a sheriff's deputy before being apprehended.

Bradford Wiles, a Virginia Tech graduate student who had been evacuated from his class during the lockdown last year resulting from the Morva incident, later wrote in a column that he would have felt safer if he had been allowed to carry his own firearm.

"The feeling of helplessness has been difficult to reconcile because I knew I would have been safer with a proper means to defend myself," Wiles wrote. "The policy that forbids students who are legally licensed to carry in Virginia needs to be changed."

On Tuesday, Wiles stood by that opinion in the wake of this week's massacre, telling Cybercast News Service that "the only way to stop someone with a gun is somebody else with a gun."

"The entire campus was a place where someone knew they could inflict the most damage with the least amount of armed resistance, and that's what you get with gun control," Wiles said. "If you let people like myself carry a gun legally ... then you have the possibility of stemming the tide."

Wiles, who wasn't near the campus buildings where Monday's shootings took place, said he doesn't believe an armed student could have prevented all of the bloodshed. But, he added, "even if just one person is not shot by that gunman because somebody had their legally licensed concealed firearm on them, isn't that enough?"

In January 2006, a bill that sought to lift restrictions on students and employees carrying handguns on public campuses in Virginia died in committee.

At the time, a Virginia Tech spokesman was quoted as saying that the move ?will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus.?

In a statement issued Monday, the Brady Campaign, a leading gun control group, decried the ease with which residents can obtain firearms. "It is well known ... how easy it is for an individual to get powerful weapons in our country," Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke said.

"We have now seen another horrible tragedy that will never be forgotten," Helmke said. "It is long overdue for us to take some common-sense actions to prevent tragedies like this from continuing to occur."

Helmke did not elaborate on what kind of "common-sense actions" should be taken, but the Brady Campaign supports strict restrictions on who can purchase firearms and on what types of guns should be available to the public.

Numerous European newspapers have criticized the U.S. gun rights lobby in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting, with some suggesting that former National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston is responsible for the attacks.

"This new tragedy presents a new opportunity for American public opinion to interrogate itself about a society which, as one of the students who survived Columbine said at the time, is very much responsible for what has happened," said an editorial in the French daily Le Monde.

The German newspaper Bild wrote that Americans "will probably begin discussing the overly lax gun laws in the United States. There, buying a machine gun is often easier than getting a driver's license."

But Bild editorial writers noted that "despite strict gun legislation, we [in Germany] have experienced the school shootings in Erfurt and Emsdetten." In 2002, a gunman killed 17 people and himself at a school in Erfurt. And last November, a teenager injured dozens of people at a school in Emsdetten before taking his own life.

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