Thursday, April 26, 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre, Gun Control and Gun Culture

Shortly after a 23-year old Virginia Tech student, Cho Seung-Hui, carried out the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the debate of gun control resurfaced. Not surprisingly, proponents of tougher gun control blamed easy access to firearms in the state of Virginia for the April 16, 2007 massacre. Gun lobbies, on the other hand, argued that if the students of Virginia Tech were allowed to bear firearms in the campus, they would have stopped the killer.

Before we go on to debate the pros and cons of tougher gun control, we ought to acknowledge that they are different kinds of killers, each act in different manner.

They are people who kill out of “moment of insanity”, perhaps after drinking or heated quarrel. I think there is a term for this kind of homicide – impulsive killing. The criminals do not plan in advance and would use any weapons in hand.

Another group of killers are “troubled” people who think that they have been victimized by the world. Cho fell into this group. Troubled killers often plan well in advance. Cho, for example, bought his first gun on Feb 9 and the second one on Mar 16. Virginia law restricts customers to buying one gun a month.

Finally, there are truly evil people who kill for power, wealth, or religions.

Tougher gun control is unlikely to stop the evil murderers, since they are going to obtain firearms illegally anyway. It does help in the case of impulsive killers. Things get more complicated in the case of troubled killers and I am not in a position to draw conclusion.

However, I deeply believe that easy access to guns in America has created a gun culture, whereby angry people think they can solve their problems by just shooting. Prior to the 1992 Los Angeles racial riot, an African American teenager was shot dead in a Korean-owned store for theft. If this incident happened in any other country, more likely the store-owner would call the police rather than assuming the role of law-enforcer. When the riot broke out, African Americans took this opportunity to vent their anger against the Korean community.

In another incident, a Japanese student who was on his way to a masquerade party walked into the wrong house. The people inside the house shot him on the ground of self-defense. Given that the student was unarmed, the house-owner should probably tell him to go away rather than firing at him. Unfortunately, the jury, so used to American gun culture, acquitted the defendant.

In the two cases described above, and many others, acquittal of the gun-owners has sent a wrong message to the public – it is OK to kill. This wrong message, in turn, has created a gun culture which influence mass-murderers in one way or another.

In short, I do feel that the United States should have tighter gun control. Given the strong influence of gun lobbies, however, I doubt much can be done. Perhaps a more possible approach is to rectify American gun culture. People must be educated on the ethics of using their guns, and they must be punished for firing improperly.

It is, of course, easier said than done. Nonetheless, Americans must do something before they mourn the next mass murder.

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