Leave the debate for another day
On the very day the corpses were being collected from the classrooms of Virginia Tech, a tired old debate took on new life. The names of the dead students and professors had not yet been released. Families had not been notified of their horrific losses. Even the gunman had not been named, much less his mental state determined. And yet the usual suspects in the gun control debate - both pro and con - had latched on to the shooting spree as another opportunity to frame their familiar messages.
On one side were those who argued that if only guns were not so accessible, not so plentiful, this massacre might never have happened. On the other were those argue that if only guns had been more accessible, more plentiful, this massacre might never have happened.
The latter perspective is summed up by a headline that quickly made the e-mail rounds: "As Usual, Nobody Had A Gun." Had a student, a professor or maybe a janitor been packing a weapon, this line of thinking goes, somebody might have stopped the murderer before he took 32 lives. But, no, the Virginia legislature declined in 2006 to give college students and workers the right to carry arms, as pro-gun Web sites hastened to point out.
Oddly enough, the sanest phrasings on that horrible day came from the White House. Asked to comment on the insertion of gun control into the day's events, a spokesperson thoughtfully replied, "Today is not the day."
How true! Both sides of the gun debate should gracefully back away from Virginia Tech as a platform.
It is not so much that America doesn't need to revisit gun laws. We do. We have big problems with gun violence. But we also have a nation filled with responsible gun owners, hunters who respect their weapons and pass on that respect to their children. Our national challenge is to come up with a set of laws that adequately addresses both.
Massacres like the one at Virginia Tech are not the place to start.
In the rush to react to this, the nation's most extreme gun tragedy, we risk over-reacting. We risk enacting laws and policies that won't balance our love/hate relationship with weapons.
The face of gun violence in America is not Cho Seung-hui's. Day in and day out, the guns that kill people do so in the service of the drug trade. Or they put a period on some dispute between lovers, family members or friends. Or they've been mishandled; the safety was off when the 10-year-old picked up the rifle. The most troublesome aspects of guns in the United States have next to nothing to do with an insane student armed to the hilt.
Nor is anything helped by the "Let's Roll!" bravado of the "concealed carry" crowd, who peddle their own brand of fear. How realistic is it to think that armed college students will make campuses safer from gun tragedy? It's batty. When attacks like this occur - when any possibility of gunplay occurs - the only people who should respond with deadly force are professionals who are highly trained to use it capably and judiciously.
It's human nature to search for lessons in tragedy, but the sad fact is that the Virginia Tech massacre isn't yielding any - at least, not yet.
Within a few days of the incident, it was learned that the student had obtained his guns legally. No laws were broken that need mending, no loophole needed to be closed. The extreme mental state of the shooter also was revealed, along with evidence that many, many people had tried to intervene, to get him the help necessary.
All we can say for now is that America has a problem with gun violence. But we don't need campus shooting sprees to tell us that.
Virginia Tech suffered a tragedy of monumental proportions. Our focus should remain on solemn remembrances of the lives lost. Let's leave the gun control debate for another day.