In the U.S. media, coverage of the massacre at Virginia Tech has analyzed almost every aspect of the shootings in far more detail than the issue of gun control. Newsweek has an entire package up, with stories warning against demonizing “boy’s play” (I’m dead serious), the role of a South Korean action flic in Cho’s behavior, a careful timeline of Monday’s events, and stories about survivors and victims. Only one piece addresses the gun issue at all.
In the international press, the response was universal: When will the United States stop giving its citizens the tools to kill each other?
OK, so we’re not going to ban handguns as England has done anytime soon.
Side note: In some of the comments to my previous posts focused on gun control, I was repeatedly pointed to the high crime rate in Britain. Not so. New York City, whose population is a mere seventh of that of Britain and Wales, had 10 times as many firearm-related homicides last year. Britain’s rate was its lowest since the late ’80s. (Overall crime rates in the UK are down by almost half since the mid-1990’s [PDF].)
But here’s what we could do. One, close the loophole allowing people to buy guns at gun shows with no background check. That’s just insane! Two, make weapons designed to kill large numbers of humans illegal: Reinstate the federal assault weapons ban.
The international press also referred repeatedly to America’s gun culture. Even the Australian PM John Howard, who has strongly aligned himself with Bush, blamed gun culture. What does “gun culture” mean? One of our editors remarked that Cho looked, in his video, for all the world like the cover of Guns & Ammo (ammo vest, holster, shooting gloves—fingerless on trigger hand). She ventured that the NRA had groaned a bit when they saw that. But the question isn’t why a mass murderer looks like the cover of a magazine—(a) delusions of grandeur, (b) consumer magazines work by making you want to look like the cover—the question is why do we have magazine covers that look like mass murderers? Why do we make movies where the heroes look like—and, um, are—mass murderers?
The one Newsweek story that does address the gun issue also raises another fairly obvious point. Gun sales should be limited to people who don’t have a history of violent mental illness. Newsweek suggests that the law already technically calls for that, but enforcement amounts to a question on the paperwork the buyer fills out: “Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective or … committed to a mental institution?” Cho answered (falsely) “no,” and then bought a semiautomatic weapon. I mean, they don’t even take your word for it at the DMV that you don’t need glasses.