If Only the Killer Had Better Firearms Training


The following information appears in a New York Times story about the Virginia Tech massacre (it's in my copy, but apparently not online), right before Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, complains that "Virginia's gun laws are some of the weakest state laws in the country":

Virginia imposes few restrictions on the purchase of handguns and no requirement for any kind of licensing or training. The state does limit handgun purchases to one per month to discourage bulk buying and resale, state officials said. Once a person has passed a background check, state law requires that law enforcement officers issue a concealed carry permit…However, no regulations and no background checks are required for purchase of weapons at a Virginia gun show.

It's hard to see how any of this is relevant to the case at hand. Assuming that Cho Seung-Hui did not have firearms training, does the Times think people at Virginia Tech would have been better off if he were more adept with a gun, or if he had been taught basic safety rules such as "always treat a gun as if it's loaded" and "never point a gun at someone else"? So far it's not clear whether Cho bought his guns at a store or a gun show, but there's also no indication that he would have failed a background check, assuming he avoided one.

The response from Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, is similarly puzzling. Helmke bemoans "how easy it is for an individual to get powerful weapons in our country." In what sense are the handguns Cho used, a .22 and a 9mm, especially "powerful"?

I guess we should be thankful that Helmke at least did not demand reinstatement of the federal "assault weapon" ban. After the 1991 massacre in Killeen, Texas, which until yesterday was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Sarah Brady, co-founder of Helmke's organization, said the attack showed the need for an "assault weapon" ban, even though the law, which focused on firearms with a militaristic look, did not cover the pistols used by the killer.