16, 17, 18…. Shoot!

guni.jpgWalking along the campus road, he had an innocent and lost expression on his face. His mind had already become a slave to his impulse. He had confined himself in a shell, wrote disturbing stories, but never broke the law. He turned into a subject of concern amongst the teachers, who advised the school to keep an eye on Cho Seung-hui. Then, all of a sudden, he killed, and in a horrific burst of violence, his Korean heritage went deep into contemplation and brought shame to Seoul. There was horror and fear that the Americans may turn against the Asian immigrants. However, this was not about Cho being Korean. This tragedy of the Virginia Tech University was very much an American thing, and it put full insanity of America’s intimacy with firearms in front of the world. Most places in Asia – Korea, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, where it would be incredibly difficult for a University student, or any civilian, to get a hold of a firearm, in the US, it is a right protected by the constitution and advocated by politicians.

America’s reaction to all such campus incidents? Well, a lot of outpouring of grief for the 32 victims, leading to some extremely important calls to the US Government to limit firearms purchases, which so obviously seem to have made an impact. Even better, they wondered upon Cho’s motives, his isolation and the oh-my-god-so-that’s-what-happened-with-him reasons. And the man with all the power? Well, President George W. Bush decided to act the most responsible of course, by sympathizing and doing nothing about the access to firepower that made that staggering death toll possible.

Gun deaths in the United States have fallen to the lowest level in decades, declining by 21 percent, and nonfatal firearm-related injuries have fallen by 41 percent, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Helped by a booming economy and falling crime rates, gun-related deaths have fallen from 39,595 in 1993, about 15.4 per 100,000 people, to about 32,436 in 1997, about 12.1 per 100,000, the lowest rate since the mid-1960s.

Although, any number of shootings from those at the University of Texas in 1966 to Columbine in 1999, to the Virginia Tech University massacre in 2007, will not convince American politicians because they cannot stand up to the gun lobby. Unless the people are willing to review their attitude towards the Second Amendment, there will not be enough support for gun control. If slavery could be abolished, the ban on homosexuality overturned, and abortion recognized as a Constitutional right, why can the Second Amendment not be reviewed?

The so-called land of opportunity, it seems, is turning into a land of terror. America’s vulnerability stands exposed. It is the vacuum in western society that is responsible for such incidents. Easy access to drugs, alcohol, and guns, and an unsound mind have claimed 32 precious lives. Parents of prospective students will surely be in a dilemma on whether or not to send their dear ones abroad for higher studies. Therefore, there can be no question that the U.S. should tighten the gun laws that have made it possible for any citizen over the age of 18 to buy arms over the counter. It is time, it woke up to the harsh reality that is staring it in the face and chose between the safety of its citizens and proliferation of terror. Vigilance should be stepped up in universities and other educational institutions of repute. Family bonding should be strengthened to help youngsters to cope up with failures and disappointment. The Americans should learn a lesson from such incidents and foster family values. It is time they realized the dangers of a materialistic life.

Frankly, the reason that Cho went crazy, and started killing his classmates is of little immediate concern here. People do go crazy. It is a fact of life. They go crazy in Korea and in the US, in Thailand, Malaysia, France or anywhere else. A combination of mental illness, a bad home life, or just a lousy day at work can send someone around a murderous bend. However, how many more people would have been alive today at the Virginia Tech if Cho only had access to a knife or a blunt object instead of a pair of high-powered pistols? Cho pulled the trigger, but it was America that had put the gun in his hands.

Tania Gupta

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ordinal/132902368/]