Culture or Control: Guns Spark Intense Debate

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy, political leaders and presidential candidates were quick to offer their prayers and condolences.

President Bush said in an impromptu on-camera statement to media that Monday he was "shocked and saddened" by the shootings.

The Senate observed a moment of silence and the House of Representatives quickly followed suit, with Speaker Pelosi saying that the prayers of the Congress were with the students and their families.

Soon, almost all of the 2008 presidential candidates began releasing statements, denouncing the killings and offering their sympathy and prayers.

"As a parent, I am filled with sorrow for the mothers and fathers and loved ones struggling with the sudden, unbearable news," read a statement by Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

The 2008 campaign Web site belonging to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., changed to a homepage of an all-black slate with only a few lines of text in white -- attributed to the senator: "Today, we are a grieving and shocked nation…we will miss them, and we pray for their families and the injured fighting for their lives."

Republican candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had both planned to spend part of their days campaigning in Virginia on Tuesday, but canceled their respective political events because of the shooting.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was scheduled to attend a fundraiser in Atlanta and hold a town hall meeting in South Carolina, also scrapped his campaign day out of respect for the tragedy.

Former Sen. John Edwards turned a planned bluegrass concert and rally in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday night into a memorial service.

"I don't believe this is the right time for politics," Edwards said before leading a prayer.

Earlier in the day, Edwards and his wife Elizabeth, who lost their 16-year-old son Wade in a single-car accident just over 10 years ago, issued a written statement expressing their "heartbreak" and reciting a Methodist hymn that they said gave them solace "in a time such as this."

Politics, if even for a day, seemed far from the minds of almost every presidential candidate. But there's no question the issues surrounding the tragedy at Virginia Tech, particularly the controversial topic of gun control, could soon become a part of the national political dialogue.

Tragedy Often Sparks Debate, Not Legislation

Gun control advocates wasted little time kick-starting that age-old debate, quickly turning from solemn observance of grief to a moment of action.

"It is long overdue for us to take some common-sense actions to prevent tragedies like this from continuing to occur," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Pointing to the Littleton, Colo., school shootings in 1999 and the Amish schoolhouse shooting six months ago, Helmke said the United States has done nothing since these incidents to end gun violence in our schools and communities.

"If anything, we've made it easier to access powerful weapons," he said.

Indeed, public opinion polls have consistently shown over the last decade that a majority of Americans, between 61 and 63 percent, favor stricter gun control laws.

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