Even to Americans used to regular doses of violence, televised and otherwise, the string of fatal shootings that have occurred in schools of late must be frightening. The horrific bloodbath let loose by a lone gunman at the Virginia Tech University campus on Monday is the latest incident. While establishing ironclad security may not have been a practical goal in the university campus of 2,600 acres, with more than 26,000 students, the sluggishness of the authorities in responding to the crisis must be questioned. From all accounts, the campus police seem to have presumed that the threat was contained in one dormitory, while most of the killings actually occurred — two hours later — in a classroom building. As the police try to identify the attacker and his possible motives for carrying out these mindless murders, one thing can be said with certainty: this will once again focus attention on the gun control debate in the US. American public opinion seems to be fiercely divided between those calling for stricter arms controls and those who insist on ‘the right to bear arms’.
The gun lobby is apparently championed by the powerful National Rifle Association, which waves the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution that underlines ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms’ every time there’s a serious attempt at gun control. Never mind if that clause was drawn up in another era — when communities needed guns to hunt and to protect themselves from highwaymen — which would probably be unrecognisable to modern Americans. Politically, most Democrats seem to favour tighter gun laws while the majority of Republicans oppose any new legislation, saying the problem lies in the lax enforcement of existing laws. Be that as it may, it isn’t always firearms as much as the culture of violence that is to blame. The endless stream of murder and mayhem served up in movies, books, television and video games more often than not teach the youth that the proper way to handle personal problems is with aggression.
With the kind of proliferation of firearms that we see today, it is almost inevitable that a mentally disturbed person would have access to guns. Perhaps the only answer is to reduce the effect of each contributing factor by improving laws regarding gun ownership and storage, better social health programmes, and proper counselling.