Massacre Renews Call for 'Common-Sense' Gun Policy

WASHINGTON - The massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which left at least 33 dead and 29 injured in the worst school shooting in U.S. history, has led gun control advocates in Congress and elsewhere to call for immediate reforms to current gun control legislation.The National Rifle Association, the leading gun rights defender in the United States, expressed its "deepest condolences to the families of Virginia Tech University and everyone else affected" by Monday's tragedy. The NRA's statement ends abruptly with: "We will not have further comment until all the facts are known."

"It is my deep belief that shootings like these are enabled by the unparalleled ease with which people procure weapons in this country," said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (California). "And I believe this will reignite the dormant effort to pass common-sense gun regulations in this nation."

Politicians from the Democratic Party have traditionally led efforts to pass gun control legislation, but newly elected Democratic lawmakers have shown an unwillingness to push for tighter measures, partly a result of their narrow majority and a fear of alienating rural Democratic voters.

But Monday's events may give renewed life to gun control laws, such as the bill by Senator Carolyn McCarthy (Democrat-New York) -- introduced in February -- which would reinstate the ban on assault rifles.

The most recent gun-related legislation was in 2005 when, after years of Republican efforts, Congress passed legislation prohibiting civil liability lawsuits against firearms manufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers.

"Lawmakers in Congress have to get some spine and not just bow to the gun lobby," said Jackie Kuhls, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV). "It's like a sickness where they look past what is clearly common sense and pass laws that are clearly protecting criminals."

In 1994 Congress passed a law which imposed a 10-year prohibition on manufacturing, selling or possessing 19 models of semiautomatic guns as well as outlawing ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, and toughened federal licensing requirements for gun dealers.

But critics of the U.S.'s liberal gun control policy have said that major loopholes exist in the sales process for firearms and the permits required for their possession.

Most of the nation's 50 states do not require gun owners to be licensed or guns to be registered, nor do they require background checks for guns purchased at gun shows.

Every state should license gun owners and register all guns, said Kuhls. "There's no reason this can't be done. We do this with cars and it doesn't limit anyone's freedom."

NYAGV pointed out that major media coverage of the Monday's tragedy have focused on police SWAT team strategies and the university's immediate response to the shootings.

Instead, NYAGV said in a statement released Tuesday, the public should be taking a closer look at the laws and policies which allowed an individual to gain access to firearms with which to go on a deadly rampage.

In Washington, the George W. Bush administration has stood firm on its gun control policy -- a core Republican issue is gun rights -- since the VT killings Monday.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino emphasised that the administration is focused on, "enforcing all of the gun laws that we have on the books and making sure that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

She said in Monday's press briefing: "As far as policy, the president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed. And certainly bringing a gun into a school dormitory and shooting -- I don't want to say numbers because I know that they're still trying to figure out many people were wounded and possibly killed, but obviously that would be against the law and something that someone should be held accountable for."

Gun control advocates have argued that the national response to the gun violence epidemic has fallen short of the necessary measures.

"We lost 3,000 people in 9/11 (the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks). Thirty thousand people lose their lives each year from handgun violence, so why aren't we seeing 10 times as much action?" asks Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, a founding member of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).

"When this has happened in other countries, such as in Australia, it led to huge gun control and a drop in gun-related crime and violence. It's a public health problem and one thing to do is look at the cause and effect factors," he said in an interview with IPS.

More than 80 people in the United States die from gun violence each day, according to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and the rate of firearm deaths among children is almost 12 times higher in the U.S. than in 25 other industrialised countries combined, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The massacre at Virginia Tech comes just four days before the United States marks the eighth anniversary since the Columbine High School shootings shocked the nation. Twelve students and a teacher were shot and killed in the western state of Colorado.

Copyright (c) 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.

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