Issues After Killings at Virginia Tech Go Beyond Debate Over Gun Laws


This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Friday was a statewide day of mourning in Virginia for the people shot to

death Monday at Virginia Tech. But other Americans also honored the thirty-two students and teachers. Some of the victims at the university in Blacksburg were from other countries. The attack by a student, Cho Seung-hui, who also killed himself, was the deadliest shooting in modern American history.

The tragedy brought back memories of other school shootings, including what had been the worst. In fact, Friday was the eighth anniversary of the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado. Two young men killed twelve other students and one teacher, and themselves.

Often, when a shooting captures national attention, debate about gun control follows. This week some of the calls to restart that debate came from political leaders in other countries.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard spoke of the gun culture in the United States. He noted that his own country took action to limit the availability of guns after a man killed thirty-five people in Tasmania eleven years ago.

British Home Office minister Tony McNulty studied at Virginia Tech. If the tragedy starts a serious debate on gun laws, he says, then some good may come from it.

The White House said Friday that President Bush has ordered federal officials to study issues raised by the shooting. These include how to deal with people whose mental health problems can make them a danger.

On Monday, a spokeswoman said the president believes that people have a right to arms, but all laws must be followed.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution says: "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."

Gun laws are not the only issue. Others involve privacy laws and disability rights that protect people with mental disorders.

Cho Seung-hui was born in South Korea but lived most of his life in the United States. He was known at Virginia Tech as a troubled person. He studied English and some of his writings were so violent they scared other students and his professors.

But schools may worry about legal action if they expel a student who has not made direct threats. Virginia Tech officials say they did what they could within the law.

The shooter was armed with two handguns that he recently bought after passing a criminal history check. There are federal laws but each state also has its own laws on buying and selling guns. Virginia is among the states with fewer restrictions than others.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says an estimated thirty-nine percent of American homes have a gun. The campaign points to national injury reports from two thousand four, the most recent year available. There were almost thirty thousand gun-related deaths. About forty percent were murders. Most of the others were suicides or accidents.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.