5/07 VA Tech: Refusing To Learn The Lesson

VA Tech: Refusing To Learn The Lesson
Larry Pratt

When an evil man (let us not use his name) gunned down 32 unarmed victims at Virginia Tech, gun control advocates began clamoring within hours for more gun control. But how more gun control would have helped is not intuitively obvious, especially since the campus was already supposed to be a gun free zone. What more gun control can you have than a total ban such as the one in force at Virginia’s public university campuses (and probably most, if not all of the private ones, too)?

The lesson learned from the Virginia Tech massacre should have been that similar murder sprees in the last ten years had been cut short — by armed citizens. One involved a high school principal in Mississippi. Another, five years ago, involved two students at a Virginia law school. In both cases, the good guys ran off campus (the gun free zones) to get guns from their vehicles and run back to confront and subdue the killer.

Good Samaritan episodes like these should have taught us that our country needs to make it easier for Good Samaritans to save lives. Instead, Virginia Tech continued its gun ban on campus. The assumption is that such rules and laws prevent crime. The mistake is to assume that laws prevent criminals from committing their deeds. Laws spell out what will be (or should be) the consequences for breaking the law. Laws do not deter criminals.

Average people may be deterred by laws, but criminals, by definition, are not. We must seek legislation that will work to empower people, not disarm them. We must understand that gun free zones are in reality criminal safe zones.

There is a tendency to think that in our modern society we should leave defense of individuals to trained first responders. I would agree, but only if we can all agree who the first responders really are. They are the victims, who are always present at the scene of a crime. There were victims at Virginia Tech who did seek to foil the murderer, but they died, in large part, because they were unarmed.

On the other hand, there were lots of cops on campus when the massacre began because they were investigating the first two murders that had been committed over two hours earlier. That presence did the next 30 victims no good. The cops responded immediately when shots were heard as the massacre began. But all they could do to help was bring body bags and note pads. They were clearly not first responders, and it is unfair to call them that.

I have debated Rep. Carolyn McCarthy about this issue. She was horrified to hear the proposal that individuals with permits to carry concealed firearms should not be barred from doing so on campuses. She threw up the bromide about drunken frat parties and armed students not mixing together.

What McCarthy was saying was merely the collegiate version of the standard objection to concealed carry of firearms permitted elsewhere in society. Every time those laws have been debated we have been warned that bars will resemble the Wild West (at least as it is depicted in the movies) and that road rage will turn roads red from running gun battles. But it never happens.

Studies of those with concealed carry permits have found that they are the folks in the population with the lowest crime rates of all — lower than the cops — lower than all other groups in the population. They are precisely the ones who we should want on campus. (In Virginia and most states, they need to be at least 21 years old.)

The Virginia Tech murderer did not choose to vent his criminal hatred in the adjacent town of Blacksburg for a simple reason — the shooter might have been gunned down by an armed citizen. Instead, he chose to murder as many as possible where he would be as safe as he could be for as long as possible — the campus.

A student wrote a letter to the editor of a local paper explaining that he has a concealed carry permit. He had chosen not to carry the gun on campus because he did not want to get caught and thus jeopardize his graduate career. Since the shooting, he said that he had been rethinking his decision. After all, if he had been killed in the massacre, that would have jeopardized his graduate career.

Now Rep. McCarthy has proposed more gun control as an answer to the gun ban that failed at Virginia Tech. McCarthy wants to empower the U.S. Attorney General to compel the states (who will be paid a billion dollars) to submit all relevant information about individuals that might disqualify them from buying a gun.

The most obvious objection to this proposal is that keeping crooks from buying guns at stores does not keep crooks from getting guns. There are no gun stores in Washington, DC, yet crooks get guns there quite easily. The same is true (with few exceptions) in England, an island with a gun ban. No stores there either, but lots of illegal guns. And lots of crime — more than in the U.S. according to a UN study of the 17 most industrialized nations.

Rep. McCarthy’s bill would launch a massive data mining of all Americans, not just gun owners. In order to make sure that illegal aliens are not getting guns, the “relevant” information required by the bill will have to include state tax returns, education records, and library usage records. And don’t forget health records. After all, those getting treated for free without insurance at emergency rooms might often be illegal aliens.

So, for Rep. McCarthy, it is okay to build a data base from state records on all Americans, not just those who might sometime buy a gun. But she has another message for the Bush administration’s probing of personal records and listening in on calls of suspected terrorists. In that case, privacy is paramount. Frankly, Rep. McCarthy is a hypocrite.

But let us not forget that even if McCarthy succeeds in her endeavor — and she might because the NRA has been supporting her bill (H.R. 297) — it will not keep guns from getting into the hands of criminals. She may keep criminals from buying guns at stores, but certainly criminals will get their guns elsewhere. There are no gun stores in Washington, D.C., but that has not kept criminals from getting all the guns they want.

I know that McCarthy will answer that last point by blaming the ease of getting guns in Virginia for the staggering murder rate in Washington, D.C. What she has never explained is why Washington has had a murder rate of 35 per 100,000 in 2004 whereas the urban county of Fairfax, across the Potomac River with virtually twice the population of Washington had at the same time a murder rate of less than one per 100,000.

Kind of interesting, isn’t it. The guns seem to behave themselves better where they’re legal and there’s a lot of them around. Since guns themselves aren’t the problem, we should stop impeding honest citizens so that Good Samaritans can do their job.