By DAVID ADAMS
As the events of April 16, 2007 unfolded, Virginians and indeed the world watched as the best and the worst of human nature were presented for all to see. We saw Virginians from all walks of life and all backgrounds come together and declare that we all became "Hokies" on that fateful day.
Without question, the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, showed us the darkest side of human nature as he took the lives of 32 fellow students as well as his own. The more we learned about what happened in those early morning hours the more it became clear that Cho was a very troubled individual.
Unfortunately, others exhibited behavior that reflects poorly on human nature. Some individuals and groups with political agendas wasted no time in making their voices heard, even before all of the families of the victims had been notified that their loved one was among the dead.
Less than 24 hours after the shootings, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence issued an e-mail, complete with a fundraising graphic linked back to the organization's Web site, that asked supporters to contact President Bush, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and tell them "It is much too easy for the wrong people to get deadly weapons in this country. It is time for you to take steps to end gun violence to prevent tragedies like the one at Virginia Tech."
Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence was quoted in the press the day after the shootings, calling for the introduction of new gun control laws, saying it was much to easy to get a gun in this country.
Not to be outdone, an editorial in The New York Times the day after the incident called for " . . . stronger controls over the lethal weapons that cause such wasteful carnage and such unbearable loss."
THE MAJOR television networks kept asking the question whether the shootings would spur renewed calls for new gun laws, which the gun-control groups and some politicians were all too eager to answer.
It could be said that much of this was driven by the 24-hour news cycle in which we live, where the media are constantly replaying the same footage over and over and seeking comment to fill air time. While this may be true, it is not an excuse. Such an event should not be used to advance a political agenda. We saw this all too often in the '90s. It was unseemly then and it is no more acceptable now.
Contrast the statements of those pushing their gun-control beliefs with the statement of the National Rifle Association (NRA). On the afternoon of the shootings, the NRA issued a statement that simply said "The National Rifle Association joins the entire country in expressing our deepest condolences to the families of Virginia Tech and everyone else affected by this horrible tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families. We will not have further comment until all the facts are known." The Virginia Shooting Sports Association (VSSA), the state NRA affiliate association, issued a similar statement expressing sympathy and prayers for the families and stating that it wanted to know all of the facts before stating what if anything could have prevented the shootings. Both groups refused to answer policy questions in the days immediately following the shootings.
I rarely agree with Gov. Timothy Kaine, but he handled the tragedy with dignity and class. At a news conference on the day after the shooting, Kaine was asked a question about those using the shootings to advance their agenda. The governor responded passionately: "I think that people who want to take this within 24 hours of the event and make it their political hobby horse to ride . . . I've got nothing but loathing for them. To those who want to try to make this into some little crusade, I say take that elsewhere." Well said, Governor.
PRESIDENT BUSH echoed those sentiments when he said now was the time to help people get over their grieving, not a time for a policy debate.
All of this raises a good question. Every time the issue of gun control is mentioned, groups like the Brady Campaign and their followers in Congress call the NRA extreme for their opposition to gun control. After comparing the statements and actions of the Brady Campaign and the NRA immediately following the shootings, which group appears to be the more extreme?
David Adams, president of the Virginia Shooting Sports Association, served as Gov. Jim Gilmore's assistant secretary of education and deputy secretary for higher education.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007