One more rampage, same weapon of choice


One more rampage, same weapon of choice


By Judy Polumbaum
Updated: 2007-04-19 07:10

Details of the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus on Monday have unfolded to confirm that the gunman was a US resident originally from South Korea. He is Cho Seung-hui, who killed 32 people and then himself in the worst campus carnage in US history.

Cho, a senior English major at the university who had come to the US at the age of 8, went about his murders methodically. Doors of one building where he opened fire on classes had been chained from the inside.

Two hours earlier, a young woman and a resident hall assistant had been shot at a dormitory, a presumably related incident that police at first interpreted as a domestic dispute. Their assumption led to the calamitous delay in alerting the campus and community to the threat.

The Virginia shooting inevitably brings back memories of a gunman's rampage one drizzly November afternoon more than 15 years ago on the campus of the University of Iowa, where I teach. The killer at Iowa was Lu Gang, a Chinese doctoral student in physics and astronomy.

On November 1, 1991, just up the hill from my office, Lu shot to death one fellow Chinese, three professors and an administrator, and critically wounded an undergraduate student, leaving her a paraplegic, before killing himself.

Undoubtedly, as more becomes known about the Virginia Tech shooter and his circumstances, people will reflect on what produced the sort of nihilistic rage that could lead someone to commit mass murder.

Such rumination, among both Americans and Chinese, ensued after the Lu Gang shootings. Most of us on the Iowa campus, and US observers generally, viewed Lu Gang's crimes primarily as the actions of a deranged individual. In China, by contrast, people sought broader social explanations.

A prolonged discussion carried out in the pages of the Beijing Youth News raised a variety of notions, including that Lu Gang's generation lacked good values due to defective early schooling during the "cultural revolution". A minority of readers suggested that the unfair pressure and discrimination that Chinese students suffered abroad was the root cause.

Such analyses were contradicted, of course, by the story of the young Chinese colleague among Lu's victims. Shan Linhua, brilliant, outgoing, well liked, the son of poor peasants from Zhejiang Province, had flourished at Iowa, winning a prestigious dissertation award and a research job on campus after his graduation.

Among the factors once again under discussion in the wake of the Virginia tragedy are an American "culture of violence" celebrated in mass media, a prevalence of "narcissism" among young people who lash back when they feel slighted, and shortcomings in provision of psychological counseling for troubled students.

Ultimately, however, what enabled both campus killers to cut down other human beings was the easy accessibility of guns in the United States.

After the Iowa shootings, Lu Gang was found to have purchased guns and practiced his markmanship at a local shooting range. Similarly, Cho Seung-hui wrought bloody mayhem with two guns and ample ammunition in hand. Reports say that five weeks earlier, wielding merely a credit card, he had paid $500 for a gun.

Weapons fanciers among US bloggers and commentators are raising a hue and cry against using the Virginia episode as another argument for gun control.

The zealots claim the mantle of the US Constitution, specifically, the Second Amendment. They selectively stress the phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" while conveniently ignoring the larger context, which is to support society's ability to maintain a "well-regulated militia" for its security.

Nothing could be less secure than a nation awash in guns. We speak of "random" violence in connection with these campus shootings, but such incidents are not random. They're a logical result of the doctrine that gun ownership is an unassailable personal right, along with the blithe attitude that trade in guns is simply another unexceptional form of commerce.

Even in US states with stricter regulation, any lunatic who wants to buy a gun can find a way. The fact that both Iowa and Virginia shooters were of Asian heritage is mere coincidence. Their shared instruments of choice are not.

Judy Polumbaum is professor of journalism at The University of Iowa

Original Source:ChinaDaily

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Judy Polumbaum, “One more rampage, same weapon of choice,” The April 16 Archive, accessed May 25, 2022,