As usual, it takes an act of morbid, deranged violence to get this country talking about its lax gun laws, and even then gun advocates use such an event to illogically bolster their case. (How often does a potential gun violence victim's own possession of a gun actually diffuse an attempted murder, as the NRA suggests it would have at Virginia Tech?). Indeed, the Virginia Tech shootings once again brought home how porous our gun laws are in the United States. That this most fatal weapon is easier to access than other regulated products like prescription medication, which is only potentially harmful to the person who buys the drug, not to an unrelated party, is disgraceful.
A background check into Cho Seung-Hui would have classified him as a "prohibited purchaser" of guns under existing federal law, according to the Brady Campaign. Too bad 40% of gun sales are not subject to background checks, or that, in the case of Cho Seung-Hui's purchase of two guns, one which, "in virtually every other country," is only available to police key information like Cho's mental health history was not available to the gun vendor. Even the background checks are flawed. As a recent New York Times article revealed, only 17 of 50 U.S. states check whether a potential gun purchaser has been "adjudicated as a mental defective" or involuntarily committed to a mental health center. (Though Virginia is one of those 17 states, reports suggest it does not enforce this standard with much bite).
There are those who say, as a representative from the Virginia Gun Owners Coalition does in this article, that a deranged person will somehow be able to scrounge up a gun; however, there is no compelling reason to believe this would have been the case for Cho because he obtained both of his guns through perfectly legal means. Moreover, media reports on his personality reveal an introverted, reserved young man, not necessarily the type of person who would seek an assault weapon through illegal means. Also, even if Cho had attempted to purchased a gun illegally, there is a chance Virginia Tech officials could have intercepted it, especially if he did it via a school Internet connection.
As Salon suggested recently, the Virginia Tech tragedy is an unwelcome clarion call to the Democrats to make their way back to their mid-1990s support of gun control laws. The rationale that Democrats lost key swing states like Arkansas and Tennesee in the 2000 presidential election because Al Gore alienated the pro-gun vote bloc has always struck me as problematic. For one, gun control has generally been supported by Americans, especially those in the country's suburbs and cities, and especially in light of the abnormal amount of gun violence that occurs in this country as compared with almost every other country.
Secondly, one can play the swing voter opportunity cost game with any group of people. For instance, I could prognosticate that George W. Bush would have picked up the key swing state of Pennsylvania in 2004 if he had appealed to pro-choice women who otherwise had Republican sympathies, but Bush would be abandoning what is (unfortunately) a core Republican party principle if he were to try and court this swing group. Basically, groups of swing voters emerge from the woodwork when you look for them. After 2000, many Democrats--several of whom I generally respect, like Jim Webb and Howard Dean--wanted to believe that they had lost pro-gun voters who otherwise supported Democratic party policies. Taken to its logical end, this approach to vote-getting leads to abandonment of core principles and the reign of highly subjective analysis of a party's interest by strategists.