Gun control laws are up for review

Published 9:48 pm Monday, April 23, 2007

By Staff
In the wake of the deadly shooting spree at Virginia Tech, the call is on to tighten gun control laws.
By itself, that’s not bad. Our society should always be ready and willing to take a step back and determine if our laws meet the current climate. Taking a look at gun-control legislation is an appropriate response.
What may get lost in all this is that Seung-Hui Cho was obviously not worried about breaking any laws. He killed 32 people before turning the gun on himself.
Federal law generally requires firearms dealers to conduct background checks on gun buyers, and prohibits sales to convicted felons and some people who have been legally declared to have mental problems. State restrictions vary widely on weapons and waiting periods.
The debate centers around whether Cho should have been allowed to purchase guns because of his mental state. He was evaluated at a psychiatric hospital in late 2005 and deemed by a judge to present ‘‘an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.’’ That should have disqualified him from purchasing a gun under federal law, experts say.
But Virginia court officials insist that because the judge ordered only outpatient treatment — and did not commit Cho to a psychiatric hospital — they were not required to submit the information to be entered in the federal databases for background checks, according to a report by The Associated Press.
You can’t argue with that.
That’s the rub. Specter’s comments are typical. It is as though elected officials in Washington, D.C. are so much smarter that they, and they alone, should have the authority to mandate what we can and can’t do.
In Virginia, where Cho bought his guns, Attorney General Bob McDonnell said the disconnect between state and federal laws on background checks is something his lawyers are working to fix. Once again, that’s the right approach. McDonnell cautioned, though, against any federal response that would infringe upon individual rights.
Newt Gingrich is taking a different approach. The former House speaker and potential Republican presidential candidate suggested future tragedies could be halted if there were greater access for people to legally carry concealed weapons.
In the Virginia Tech case, one could argue that anybody who was so sick and twisted to plan a mass murder, tape a confession and mail it to a TV network and then carry out the plan wasn’t going to be stopped because of gun-control legislation. If he couldn’t buy a weapon legally, he could have bought one illegally. If he couldn’t buy one, he could steal one.
Some lawmakers would have you believe that they can protect you from harm. They can’t. A certain measure of gun-control legislation can be an important tool to prevent someone from acting on impulse in the commission of a crime. But no amount of legislation is going to stop a determined killer.