Gun-control debate rages on


Gun-control debate rages on


The following is a short piece by myself, published in the Irish Sunday Business Post.


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Gun-control debate rages on
22 April 2007
By Nicholas Kiersey

Six days have passed since the horrific events at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, during which 32 people were shot dead by a lone gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, before he killed himself.

It is hardly enough time for students and staff to begin to reflect upon the scale of the event and how it is already provoking what will probably turn out to be a major round in the US gun-control debate.

Of course, the human dimension to the story is being played out this weekend in the homes of the families and friends of the victims. Memorials are taking place around the state. Funerals are being arranged for tomorrow or Tuesday, depending on how soon the police release the bodies.

The university administration wants students back at school for resumption of classes tomorrow. Professors and teaching assistants are being briefed in the coming days. The regular curriculum will be suspended for tomorrow&#39;s classes, in favour of discussions on the events from a variety of perspectives.

Elsewhere, the nation&#39;s media are already turning to eager &#39;talking heads&#39; and pundits for their commentary on the killer, his psychological state and how campuses might better prepare themselves to ward off similar attacks. Conspicuous by its absence in this dialogue, however, is a meaningful engagement by US politicians with the question of gun control.

On the left and right alike, US politicians have long considered the issue of gun control to be very tricky. Analysts have attributed John Kerry&#39;s defeat in the 2000 election to his stance on the banning of assault weapons.

The news networks are affording the pro-gun movement ample space to express its views. The views of Susanna Hupp, herself a survivor of a shoot-out in a Texas cafe in 1991, are not atypical.

As she put it in a debate on CBS last week, the most heinous of all mass killings in the US, like those at Columbine and Virginia Tech, have all taken place in &#39;gun-free zones&#39;, places where even basic side arms are banned.

Such views are popular in America and are not uncommon even among students and alumni of Virginia Tech. As one friend of mine, a former tech student currently deployed in Iraq with a private security firm, said a couple of days ago: &#39;&#39;If one of the victims had been carrying [a gun] and had reacted properly, a lot of lives could had been saved."

Others at Virginia Tech are perplexed by such opinions. The idea that weapons-bearing students might somehow have averted last week&#39;s massacre seems to ignore the likely complexities that such a situation would produce.

How, for example, would students in separate classrooms have been able to distinguish friend from foe? Would such a scenario not make the job of law enforcement officers extremely difficult?

President George W Bush last week asserted his support for the second amendment, the instrument of the US constitution that grants the right to bear arms to all citizens.

The day before his speech at the Virginia Tech memorial convocation, his press secretary, Dana Perino, said: &#39;&#39;The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed."

However, the second amendment was written when the US nation was still insecure about foreign invasion. Its sole instrumental purpose was to ensure citizens were equipped to form a militia in the absence of a standing army.

Meanwhile, news is breaking about the sheer quantity of ammunition expended by the Virginia Tech killer. Among the inventory he carried on the day were hollow-point shells and ammunition clips capable of holding up to 30 bullets.

Protagonists on both sides of the gun debate in the US tend to stereotype their opponents, yet the pro-gun movement seems incapable of articulating a balanced view on the sorts of weapons required by the average citizen.

The fact remains high-powered guns are too easy to get in Virginia. Second-hand weapons may be purchased with no background check, and there are no state restrictions on the sale of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons, such as the AK47.

As we learned last week, a Virginia judicial officer certified in 2005 that Cho presented &#39;&#39;an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness&#39;&#39;.

As such, Cho probably fell within the category of &#39;&#39;adjudicated as a mental incompetent&#39;&#39; used in the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968. However, none of this showed up in his background checks on the day he purchased his weapons.

My gun-advocate friends often argue it would be impossible to fully regulate the ownership of guns. Better then to let everyone carry a weapon so that they might defend themselves and thereby create a deterrent.

Yet they ignore the experience of many Europeans, such as myself, who have grown up in countries where gun ownership is regulated quite successfully.

This weekend, most Virginia Tech students will be envious of the sort of peace and security that such regulation can provide.

Nicholas Kiersey, who is from Blessington, Co Wicklow, is a PhD student at Virginia Tech


Nicholas Kiersey




Nicholas Kiersey




Nicholas Kiersey, “Gun-control debate rages on,” The April 16 Archive, accessed May 25, 2022,