Lawyer Andrew Cohen analyzes legal affairs for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
(AP Photo/Casey Templeton)
Before the sun even set Monday on Virginia Tech's devastated campus, the eternally discordant voices in the debate over gun control already were sounding across the country.
Gun control advocates told us yesterday afternoon that they are not necessarily shocked that gun violence would rock another one of our centers of learning with such chilling brutality. They say that gun control on our nation's campuses didn't even get measurably better after the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, which occurred nearly eight years ago to the day. In fact, they added, gun control across the country has become more lax thanks to a "lack of leadership" on the part of the White House.
Gun rights advocates, meanwhile, were quick to remind us, as CBS News' Armen Keteyian reported, that Virginia Tech officials had implemented reasonable gun safety measures on campus—guns were prohibited in dormitories and in classrooms-- and still were unable to protect the students and faculty. No doubt in the coming days these opponents of gun control will say to anyone who will listen that the massacre at Virginia Tech falls solely upon the shoulders of the killer, Cho Seung-Hui, and not upon the Commonwealth of Virginia's long-held policy of recognizing broad gun rights for individuals.
It seems too early to engage in earnest in this worthwhile debate. The bodies of the victims have not even all been identified yet let alone buried and this week at least we should focus upon them, and their friends and family, and upon ensuring that the survivors of the attack are cared for and nurtured back to health. The mourning has begun, so far mostly in private, and we ought to allow the all-too-familiar public ceremonies of grief to unfold in the coming days before we roll up our sleeves and try yet again after a catastrophe to tackle the issue of guns in America.
If nothing else, let us hope that the tragedy at Virginia Tech at least fosters a new national conversation about guns on campus. That conversation ought to begin not in Virginia but in Utah, where last fall the Supreme Court of Utah rejectedan attempt by administrators at the University of Utah to ban guns on its campus. The rationale behind that ruling and the potential scope of it are worth reviewing now, if not by Congress than by state legislators around the country. Perhaps there is no formula of laws and morality that can prevent these sorts of crimes from recurring with painful familiarity. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop looking for one.