Gun Control Debate Heats Up in Virginia

As Sean McQuade, the final victim of the Virginia Tech massacre to be released from the hospital, wakes up in his own bed, the national struggle over gun control continued this week as two Virginia gun shop owners decided it was time to take a stand.

One month after the deadliest shooting by one individual in U.S. history, two Virginia gun shop owners held a raffle to give away free guns.

"Guns in the hands of decent law-abiding citizens is a good thing," one of the shop owners said. "In my opinion, you can't have too many of those kinds of guns."

But two guns in the hands of a mentally disturbed student, who had been law-abiding, were too much for the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Outside the event, photos of the victims were held up next to signs calling for more gun control.

The so-called "Bloomberg Gun Raffle" was a defiant message to New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently ordered undercover investigators to try and catch illegal gun sales in action, and targeted shops in several states, inclucing Virginia.

"Mayor Bloomberg is concerned about guns that flood New York City that are used in crimes," said Paul Helke of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence. "He sent P.I.s to various states and he found that there were gun dealers not following the law."

The most recent FBI statistics show murders and robberies rose by 3.7 percent nationwide during the first six months of 2006. Philadelphia, for example, has had 100 murders so far, more than 80 percent of them involving handguns.

"Not only did we have 32 people murdered at Virginia Tech, we have 32 people murdered with guns every day in this country," Helke said.

But others believe guns in the right hands can reduce violence and deaths.

"I just want to know if something comes up that I stand a chance of defending myself and other innocent people," a professor and former Marine in Denver.

Outside the rally, parents of Virginia Tech victim Mary Reade refused to be drawn into the gun debate, saying simply that people should remember their loss.

"Those people are entitled to their opinions," Peter Reade, Mary's father, said. "For our daughter, we want them to be remembered and honored."

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