Going mental on guns

by Beacon Staff • February 20, 2008

Proponents of lenient gun laws seemed to have reasonable arguments-family protection, civil rights, the sport of hunting-up until Feb. 15, when CNN released a report stating that the shooters at both Northern Illinois University and Virginia Tech secured their weapons from the same Web-based dealer. This is astounding and completely unacceptable. There is zero reason why these men should've been able to secure guns legally in this country.

CNN reports that Steven Kazmierczak, the graduate student accused of killing five people at Northern Illinois University, used www.topglock.com, self-described as "one of the largest online retailers of firearms and firearm accessories," to purchase "two 9 mm Glock magazines and a holster for a Glock handgun ... he received them Feb. 12, two days before the NIU shootings."

A statement released directly from Eric Thompson, president of TGSCOM Inc., states, "TGSCOM Inc. also operates the Web site used by Cho Seung-Hui to purchase a firearm used in the in the Virginia Tech shootings last April. As with the Virginia Tech tragedy, TGSCOM Inc. is assisting law enforcement in any way it can during the investigation of this senseless act of violence."

Thompson goes on to say that, "My hope is that we will all learn from this tragedy and develop solutions that will allow people to better protect themselves from depraved people."

Thompson's "solution" to this problem is that "college students and university faculty members who are properly licensed and trained to carry a firearm should be allowed to do so." His logic, presumably, is that if other members of the community were carrying firearms they could have defended themselves, but this is ludicrous. There would not be a need to defend themselves if these shooters didn't have the firearms in the first place. Increasing the volume of guns in any one location only exacerbates existing problems.

The easiest, most sensible solution is to reinforce and expand our federal gun control laws so that innocent human lives are not taken so easily.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly states that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Let's be frank: the United States hasn't had a need for a "militia" in hundreds of years-it's not like the British are going to come rolling through the hillsides at us anymore.

That's not to say that all guns should be completely banned from civilian ownership. There are obviously real needs for civilians to own guns, mostly for hunting and self-protection. The main problems lie with national gun purchasing regulations and when gun retailers fail to follow the laws that are currently in place.

Advocates of stricter gun control laws point to the 1994 assault weapons ban, which Congress failed to extend in 2004, as a major letdown to their cause, but it really amounts to little. That ban only outlawed the civilian ownership of guns with "military features." It did nothing to protect Americans from gun violence perpetrated by pistols and the like. Guns are guns. It does not matter what they look like: they are all deadly.

We must address not what kinds of firearms are being sold, but who are permitted to buy them.

Both recent school shooters suffered from mental illness, which went unchecked by the firearm salespeople. Kazmierczak, described as an "outstanding student" by officials, recently stopped taking an unknown medication and became "somewhat erratic," according to CNN. Cho likewise suffered from mental illness, specifically depression and a severe anxiety disorder. People with such disabilities should not be able to legally secure firearms.

The process of acquiring a firearm should include a background check which searches not only for criminal acts, but also for mental health problems. In short, they must be made more intensive, more far-reaching, more detailed, more prolonged. And, to be sure, troubled people should not be allowed to own or operate firearms.

Stable adults who have passed a gun safety course and secured a firearms license should be allowed to own and operate guns for hunting and protection, but those convicted of serious crimes and mentally troubled people cannot be trusted to own lethal weapons. If we implement this crackdown, the nation will become a safer, more secure place, where students can study in peace.