It might seem tasteless, in the week after the largest campus shooting in U.S. history, to begin a national discourse on gun control. As the aftermath of the horrific events at Virginia Tech played out, I clung to this belief, hoping that Democrats would hold off on talk of gun control. If Democrats spoke out on gun control right away, I thought, it might come across as opportunistic, as if the Democrats had just been waiting for another tragedy to occur so they could force the issue.
But a week of media saturation on the topic changed my views entirely. It wasn’t until I sat down Friday night to watch an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher” that I realized just how desperately our nation needs to take another look at the topic. The show’s panelists, from all sides of the political spectrum, seemed to be in rare agreement on the issue. All panelists shied away from even the slightest notion of gun control. But it was conservative author John O’Sullivan who echoed the views of many Americans when he said that criminals just ignore gun laws. He said Seung-Hui Cho was breaking several gun laws that were already in place. Let’s ignore for a moment that Cho owned his two primary weapons completely legally. Instead, let’s focus on the type of society that O’Sullivan so fears: societies that restrict gun ownership more rigorously than our own. Japan, with arguably the strictest gun control laws in the world, has a handgun murder rate at least 200 times lower than the United States’. Gun rights supporters would have us believe that restricting our access to guns makes us less safe. But the fact is Tokyo, with only 59,000 licensed gun owners in the entire city, has impressively low homicide rates. So while it is all well and good for O’Sullivan to tout the old party line, that argument has very little bearing in reality.
Mere hours after the massacre, popular online blogger Glenn Reynolds had the audacity to suggest that had recent efforts to overturn Virginia Tech’s status as a “gun-free zone,” succeeded, “things might have turned out differently.” The thinking here is that the victims may have been afforded an opportunity to defend themselves if only it weren’t for overzealous gun rights advocates. Of course, Reynolds’ argument is ludicrous because it assumes that the victims of last Monday’s shooting would have brought guns to their 9 a.m. German class had they only been permitted to. But moreover, it presumes that a society where each individual feels compelled to protect themselves from violent death at any moment is a desirable one to live in.
Conservative analyst Amy Holmes spoke to this view on Maher’s program, suggesting that if we control killers’ violent urges, we will see fewer incidents of violence. Here I agree. Of course curbing Seung-Hui Cho’s angry nature and violent tendencies would have been more effective than curbing his ability to buy a gun. But sighting sociopaths is much more difficult than denying them gun ownership, and it will take much more than modifications to college counseling services to ensure that the atrocities at Virginia Tech are not repeated. It’s hard to tell the progress we may have been able to make on Cho’s psyche, but it is fairly easy to quantify the deaths that may have been prevented if the efficacy of his weapons arsenal had been minimized. In other words, even if the Second Amendment protected Cho’s right to own a gun, it shouldn’t necessarily protect his right to more lethal hollow point bullets. Democrats have for too long been characterized as opponents of the Second Amendment for making perfectly reasonable proposals. Now they’ve run away from the issue altogether, rather than explaining the basic sanity behind stricter gun laws. It wouldn’t take much, it could be as simple as explaining that it doesn’t take an assault rifle to kill a deer. Instead, they’ve decided it’s a lost cause and that they’d be better served touting a free-for-all philosophy that embraces private ownership at all costs. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer demonstrated this dangerous new Democratic way of thinking when he laid out his gun control policy on “Real Time,” “I’ll control my gun, you control your gun.” Sorry, governor, but that’s not good enough.