April 26, 2007 -- This past Tuesday the governor of Virginia announced he would close the loophole that allowed Seung-Hui Cho to buy the guns he used to kill 32 people -- and himself -- on the Virginia Tech campus. OK, it's a good idea to keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally unstable. But be careful about how far the calls for gun control go, because the idea that gun control laws lower gun crime is a myth.
After the 1997 shooting of 16 kids in Dunblane, England, the United Kingdom passed one of the strictest gun-control laws in the world, banning its citizens from owning almost all types of handguns. Britain seemed to get safer by the minute, as 162,000 newly-illegal firearms were forked over to British officials by law-abiding citizens.
But this didn't decrease the amount of gun-related crime in the U.K. In fact, gun-related crime has nearly doubled in the U.K. since the ban was enacted.
Might stricter gun laws result in more gun crime? It seems counterintuitive but makes sense if we consider one simple fact: Criminals don't obey the law. Strict gun laws, like the ban in Britain, probably only affect the actions of people who wouldn't commit crimes in the first place.
England's ban didn't magically cause all British handguns to disappear. Officials estimate that more than 250,000 illegal weapons are still in circulation in the country. Without the fear of retaliation from victims who might be packing heat, criminals in possession of these weapons now have a much easier job, and the incidence of gun-related crime has risen. As the saying goes, "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."
It's true that if gun control laws had been stricter in Virginia, Seung-Hui Cho would have had a more difficult time getting ahold of the weapons he used to gun down innocent students and teachers. But it's foolish to assume that stricter gun laws will prevent maniacs like Cho from committing heinous crimes. A deranged criminal will find a way to get his hands on a gun. Or a bomb.
The sad truth is that if gun laws had been less strict in Virginia, there is a possibility that the tragedy at Virginia Tech could have claimed fewer lives.
In January 2006, a bill was proposed in the Virginia State Assembly that would have forced Virginia Tech to change its current policy and allow students and faculty members to legally carry weapons on campus. Teenage college students carrying guns makes me nervous, but shouldn't adults be able to decide if they want to arm themselves -- just in case? When the bill was defeated, a Virginia Tech spokesman cheered the action, saying, "This will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus."
However, one gun rights advocate lamented the bill's failure with chilling accuracy: "You never know when evil will pop up."
Back in 2002, evil arrived at Virginia's Appalachian School of Law. A disgruntled student opened fire on the school's campus, killing three and wounding more. The law school also prohibited guns on campus, but fortunately two students happened to have firearms in their cars. When the pair heard gunshots, they retrieved their weapons and trained them on the killer, helping restrain him until authorities arrived.
There's no way to know whether Seung-Hui Cho's murderous rampage could have been stopped in a similar way, but what's certain is that strict gun control laws do not always have the effect that legislators intend. More guns (in the right hands) can stop crime, and fewer guns (in the wrong hands) can make for more crime. Gun control isn't crime control.