The spirit reels at the immensity of 32 college students and professors randomly shot to death in their classrooms on a bucolic campus, and at the pain that will diminish but never go away for some families — at the unfathomableness of it all.
The mind reels too, but the intellect can work its way to something that makes some sort of sense: If Virginia had stricter gun laws, Seung-Hui Cho would not have been able to walk into a store and walk out minutes later with a legally purchased 9 mm Glock.
Under the lax Virginia law, all he had to do was present identification and pass a computerized background check the gun dealer runs on the spot. No criminal record turned up, so Cho bought the weapon he would use in the bloodiest shooting spree in the history of the United States.
In states with tougher gun laws, Cho would have found buying a gun legally much harder.
New Jersey, among the nation’s toughest, requires that people who want to buy a handgun must first sign a waiver that allows their hometown police department to run an extensive background investigation that includes not just criminal records but also the potential buyer’s mental-health history.
Which is what might have prevented Cho from buying his gun.
Authorities at his college, including the Virginia Tech police, knew he was deeply troubled. Even if they never filed charges, they might have had a long talk with a cop visiting the campus to check on a certain Cho Seung-Hui who had applied for a gun permit.
Of course, nobody should be under the illusion that a tough gun law would have prevented the massacre. No guarantee the police would have pursued the background check to the Virginia Tech campus.
Even if an investigation turned up the classroom horror stories and Cho was denied the gun permit, he could have bought his Glock on the street.
But at least one would have the consolation of knowing the law of the land was not Cho's accomplice. That is not something in which pro-gun Virginia lawmakers can take comfort today.
They have been trying to make buying and carrying guns easier than it already is. Two years ago, they actually came to the defense of another Virginia Tech student who brought a weapon to campus.
As best as I can understand it from the pro-gun blogosphere, the idea is that if two or three students in the classrooms Cho attacked were armed, they could have shot back and killed him before the body count rose as high as it did.
In other words, let’s let students come heavy, to paraphrase the inimitable words of Corrado “Junior” Soprano. Teachers, too. And none of those Second Amendment-violatin’ background checks, either. So if Billy chews gum after being told not to, his troubled prof can just BANG! Or if Johnny the disturbed soph feels he didn’t deserve the C-minus, BOOM!
Hey, I reached out in a moment of anger ... and it was right in my holster.
Sure, if students legally carried Glocks of their own, Cho might have been shot down earlier, in that particular spree. But how many more sprees would there be if coming to class packing heat were as commonplace as coming to class packing books?
Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.