As the nation mourned the April 16 shooting deaths of 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech, calls mounted for action to curb handguns like the weapons used by the gunman.

Kaye Tice, a leader of Virginians Against Handgun Violence (VAHV), told the World in a phone interview from her home in Virginia’s Tidewater region that her son graduated from Virginia Tech two years ago. “The school is near and dear to our hearts,” she said. “Blacksburg has such a small town feel, a loving feel. People leave their doors open. We are just heartsick. We hope and pray that this horrible tragedy will lend itself to some kind of positive outcome.”

She added, “We are an ‘open carry’ state. People who own a handgun can strap it to their hip and walk around.”

The accused gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, who killed himself after the campus shooting spree, was a deeply troubled Virginia Tech senior. He bought a Glock 9-mm handgun for $571 two weeks ago at a gun store in Roanoke, Va. He was also armed with a Walther .22-caliber pistol.

“My son checked with all his friends who are still at Virginia Tech,” Tice said. “They are all OK. But the ripples from this tragedy have touched many lives and hearts. Our little committee of 800 people is almost laughable when compared to the pro-gun forces we are up against. But if you believe in building a better world, you have to keep trying.”

About 30,000 people die each year from firearms. There are more than 260 million personal firearms in the U.S., including 65 million handguns.

Jim Sollo, VAHV vice president, commented, “Mr. Bush will try to avoid the word ‘gun’ for the next few weeks.” He said, “People should be demanding action. Curbing gun violence should be part of the debate leading up to the 2008 election.”

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), whose husband was killed by a deranged shooter on the Long Island Rail Road a decade ago, said her “heart goes out to the families of those lost in this heinous act.” The Virginia Tech tragedy, she said, “could have been avoided if congressional leaders stood up to the gun lobby.”

Jon Rosenthal, a founder of Massachusetts-based Stop Handgun Violence, told the World he is a gun owner who believes in the right to bear arms. “But guns are dangerous and should be regulated to some extent,” he said. “Instead, federal gun policy is to provide virtually unrestricted access to guns with no background checks.”

Massachusetts is among three states with background checks and regulations on gun sales, resulting in the lowest gun fatality rates in the nation, he said.

“I’m not surprised by this rampage in Virginia. It’s the result of a failed national gun policy — 80 gun deaths every day in America, 30,000 a year. This is the price of allowing the NRA [National Rifle Association] to dictate national gun policy.”

Paul Helmke, head of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, cited the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., eight years ago and last year’s shooting deaths of five girls in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. “How many deaths and injuries must we endure before our elected officials act to end gun violence?” Helmke demanded. “We must ask our leaders: ‘What are you going to do to make our schools, workplaces, and communities safe from gun violence?’”

The Brady Campaign puts the cost of treatment for gunshot wounds at over $100 billion annually. Firearms are the number one cause of death for African Americans ages 15-34, a death rate from gunshot wounds twice that of whites. Thirty-three cities and towns have brought lawsuits against firearms makers for criminal negligence in the enormous loss of life and limb.

“Since the mid-1980s, the gun industry has embraced increased firepower and capacity,” says a Violence Policy Center report on the Glock weapon used by the gunman. “The dominance of the semiautomatic pistol greatly increased the firepower in civilian hands.” These are “pistols capable of rapid fire” that have “high-capacity magazines and can be quickly reloaded.” They are “efficient killing machines.”

VPC analyst Tom Diaz, in his 2000 book “Making a Killing: The Business of Guns in America,” said this stress on firepower reveals the gun industry’s “insatiable greed for a higher profit margin regardless of the number of lives lost.”

Doris Crouse-Mays, Virginia AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, told the World the labor movement was working with the Red Cross to provide “whatever help is needed.”

“Along with everyone else, we are saddened by this tragedy,” she said. “We have union brothers and sisters on that campus. There will be considerable thought on how we can ensure the safety and security of all our schools and campuses.”


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.